Rugby: North Harbour beat Counties Manukau in Mitre 10 Cup opener

By Campbell Burnes

Piers Francis of Counties Manukau. Photo / Getty Images
Piers Francis of Counties Manukau. Photo / Getty Images

There was not the expected score blowout under the new breakdown law trials, nor did the Mitre 10 Cup kick off at the predicted breakneck pace.

That was due to an extended injury stoppage, a stack of scrums, and plenty of whistle from referee Shane McDermott, while both sides searched, often in vain, for some attacking mojo.

But once again a Championship side scalped a Premiership unit, as North Harbour did to the Steelers in 2015, and that will be gold dust to a traditionally slow starting Harbour.

The home side ran out with real intent, and wing Afa Fa'atau was on the end of a Matt Duffie grubber, but it was the only time in the first spell the home side finished the many opportunities they created. Even when Steelers wing Sam Vaka was binned, they could not capitalise. It was a 10-all stalemate at the half.

Jordan Taufua brought his Crusaders' form to the Steelers, running with his usual admirable vigour, and he scored their first try after a strong and long cleanout by lock Viliame Rarasea.

The second came with just five minutes to play and gave the visitors a glimmer of hope.

Harbour had sound lineout options in Chris Vui and Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, but hooker James Parsons could not always find them.

Matt Vaega, who kicked two goals, and Michael Little, both punched holes, but the Steelers will not crumble defensively, especially not with Stuart Lancaster pulling the strings in that facet. Instead, Little pounced on a Vaka error in his in-goal for the second Harbour try from a grubber kick.

Replacement halfback Chris Smylie racked up his 50th game for North Harbour, 14 years after his debut.

The Steelers will look forward to the offensive spark of their returning sevens pair - August Pulu and Sione Molia - next week.

Both sides have plenty of time for work-ons before their next, crossover, matches. North Harbour have nine days before they face Waikato in a Ranfurly Shield challenge on August 27, while Counties Manukau host Bay of Plenty the following day.

The curtainraiser saw Westlake BHS triumph 34-3 over Massey High to win the union's First XV final for the 15th time.

North Harbour 20 (Afa Fa'atau, Michael Little tries; Matt Vaega con, pen, Bryn Gatland con, pen) Counties Manukau 17 (Jordan Taufua, Suliasi Taufalele tries; Piers Francis 2 con, Joe Reynolds pen) HT: 10-10

- NZ Herald

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