North Harbour 17
It's a safe bet Ash Moeke's name has never appeared in the same sentence as Don Clarke, but there's a first time for everything.
The scale was vastly different but Moeke replicated "The Boot" today to carry Northland to a one-point ITM Cup victory over hapless North Harbour in Whangarei.
Moeke's faultless six-from-six penalty return - including the winner from wide on the right nine minutes from the end - matched Clarke's for the All Blacks in one of the most contentious of post-World War II test victories.
Clarke did the business against the Lions at Carisbrook in 1959. The scoreline was identical, the All Blacks tryless against the Lions' dazzling backline of entertainers, who scored four tries. Harbour's backs did get their two tries today, good ones too, and they led 17-6 at the interval. Surely, it seemed their first win of a difficult campaign was 40 minutes away.
But Harbour managed to find ways to stuff things up. Playing into a decent breeze in the second spell, they were smart for a time, keeping the ball tight.
Their scrum was impressive, they got good returns out of Filo Paulo and Chris Smith at the lineouts, but in a game of 24 penalties, their inability to retain the ball at important times badly let them down.
Northland toiled diligently, got solid value from William Whetton at the lineouts and stuck to the job, even after losing winger Fa'atoina Autagavaia to the sin bin late on for a badly timed tackle on Rudi Wulf.
Nafi Tuitavake, always worth watching with the ball and a bit of space to work with, scored the first try, after handy setup work from Francis Saili and Cory Aporo; fullback Luke Devcich sliced through on halftime to put Harbour firmly in charge.
They were playing better and it seemed they'd get their first win of the championship. Moeke had other ideas, and kept chipping away with four second-half penalties. Northland now sit comfortably in mid-table. Harbour have the weight of the championship on their shoulders.
- APNZBy David Leggat Email David