North Harbour coach Steve Jackson said at the start of the season that the No 10 battle would come down to who was performing best between Bryn Gatland and Matt McGahan.

Gatland has won that battle, with the 21-year-old cementing his berth thanks to some sharp goalkicking and composed generalship, while Blues squad member McGahan has been able to show more of his flair from fullback.

Gatland knows he has made the right career move after being stuck in a logjam for the Waikato first five position in 2014-15.

He was given just one game, off the pine, against Bay of Plenty last season, and had to bide his time behind Damian McKenzie, who was a regular starter for the Mooloos then, Wharenui Hawera, who subsequently moved to Southland, and the returning Stephen Donald. This season has also seen Sam Christie return from Italy and the emergence of Matt Lansdown, whose boot helped the Waikato Under 19s win last week's Jock Hobbs Memorial national tournament.


So Gatland sought fresher, greener pastures. He has already shown himself to be a player who can perform under pressure, having landed the late, decisive drop goal, as Hamilton BHS won the national Top 4 First XV title in 2013, lowering the powerful St Kentigern side and arresting their 52-match winning streak.

He might just be needed to land a few more pressure goals as Harbour's search to make the Championship semifinals reaches 'squeaky bum time.'

And if he needs some family advice on his goalkicking, rather than his father, Wales and Lions coach Warren Gatland, he'll seek out his grandfather Terry Shaw, a fine fullback who kicked for Thames Valley, and was a useful cricketer too for Northern Districts.

"He always reminds me about that drop-kick for Thames Valley to beat Australia when he was younger," quips Gatland junior.

That was in 1962 in Te Aroha, the finest day in the Swamp Foxes' rugby history. There is even more pedigree for Gatland to call upon. His uncle, Paddy Shaw, was halfback for the 1992 NZ Schools side.

Gatland senior is flying out to Argentina today to watch the All Blacks live, but is always a solid sounding board, and will be the key man to secure tickets to Lions tour matches next June.

"He's been getting to a few of my games lately, which is cool, because he doesn't often get to them. He might catch me on TV. Mum will give him an update and we'll talk on the phone. He gives me the honest truth," says Gatland the younger.

He is candid about his reasons for heading north to a union where he knew few people and had no background.

"To be honest, I wasn't getting enough game time and exposure, so I signed a two-year deal with Harbour before I came up, played Blues Development and club for Takapuna. They're a good bunch of boys and I'm really enjoying it."

Gatland wasn't the only Mooloos boy who headed up State Highway One. Flankers Kane Jacobson and Josh Tyrell also tried their luck, helping Takapuna to the premier club final and cracking the Harbour squad.

It's worked out well, though Gatland did not get a lot of club goalkicking match practice as the prolific Jon Elrick, a former rep player and one of the best off the tee in the country, was his usual accurate self, at No 12.

"J El had been around for years and played close to 200 games for Takapuna. Goalkicking is his thing and he's great at it. He said to me that I could goalkick if I wanted but I said no. I was still practising as much as I could but J El probably won us a few games with that boot, so I didn't want to take it off him," says Gatland.

Since the club season, Gatland's rugby has been on an upwards curve, benched initially then swapping with McGahan, he has shot at 74 percent off the tee, including a clutch of long range penalty goals, racking up a total of 27 points in the home wins over Manawatu and Southland (last Sunday). The only jarring note was that he missed a few crucial goals in the Shield challenge against his old province in Hamilton.

"I've just been welcomed up here. The coaches have given me a chance and weren't worried who played Super or not. In that Waikato game, I had a couple of mishits and it made me feel like my game wasn't as good as it could have been. But I've come right in the last couple of weeks. Tomorrow is a crucial game. We'll try and make the top four and we're looking pretty good if we win against Bay of Plenty."

Gatland will mark the promising Dan Hollinshead, with former Azzurri international Kelly Haimona to come off the pine for the Steamers.

With another Bryn, Hall, that is, feeding him from halfback, and the settled midfield pairing of Michael Little and Matt Vaega outside him, plus former Harbour and Waratahs No 10 Daniel Halangahu coaching the backs, Gatland is feeling right at home.

"Michael and Matt are a quality pair, not the biggest guys, but they are electric when they get the ball.

"It's quite refreshing to have a guy like Dan. He was still playing in France (recently) and only finished up with Harbour as a player last year. He's really good to talk to and relates to how I play as a 10. He's given me a lot of confidence in the jersey."
Halangahu, likewise, has enjoyed working with Gatland.

"Bryn's an impressive young guy. Early on there were question marks over his defence, but he's rolled his sleeves up and done the hard work. His passing and kicking games are top-class and allows us to play with width and win the territory battle," says Halangahu.

*Live commentary of the North Harbour-Bay of Plenty match is on Radio Sport and iHeart Radio from 2.35pm on Saturday.