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Northland edges Harbour in thriller

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Sportal.co.nz     21 Aug 2009     Getty Images

Both teams played with a level of passion that had bodies crunching everytime there was an impact as they sought a win that becomes vital with every week this intriguing competition advances.

Northland proved powerful in the contact situations and seemed to be all over the ball in counter-rucking mode whenever North Harbour went to ground with the ball.

In its backline, fullback Jared Payne and wing Rene Ranger might not have featured on the score sheet but they featured in some powerful runs that gave the side great momentum especially in the vital middle stages of the second half. First five-eighths Lachie Munro scored a try and made up the rest of his 21 point haul from his boot.

The contest in the loose was outstanding. North Harbour flanker Malakai Ravulo made some punishing runs and had great support from No.8 Viliame Ma'afu and blindside flanker Chris Smith.

And after some late bullocking runs by Ma'afu and Ravulo, North Harbour got into position to make a late run as lock Filo Paulo drove over and when first five-eighths Michael Harris added another fine sideline conversion it was set for a hectic last five minutes.

Harris opened the scoring two minutes into the game with a penalty goal but Northland enjoyed a sustained period on attack, moving the ball with speed and fine combination between backs and forwards.

Northland halfback Luke Hamilton provided crisp, consistent ball passing from the base of scrums and rucks, and it was from a ninth minute scrum that he fed Munro. He passed to fullback Jared Payne cutting back on the angle while passing back to Munro who was doubling around.

The gap opened and Munro had the speed to get to the line as he was tackled.

Just after each of North Harbour's wings, All Blacks Rudi Wulf and Anthony Tuitavake, had runs down their respective wings, Northland threw a long ball at a lineout just out from their 22m area.

Ravulo was onto it and fed second five-eighths Andrew Mailei. He powered his way toward the line. The ball was spun from the ruck and it was Wulf who got the ball down in the corner. Harris' sideline conversion, and his penalty goal three minutes earlier gave North Harbour the lead again.

Harris added a penalty goal in the 36th minute to extend the lead to 16-10.

By the time the second half was six minutes old Munro had landed two handy penalty goals to level the scores.

Harris made a fine blindside break for Harbour but found himself without support. Instead of holding the ball for the ruck he passed unnecessarily and it was Northland wing Brook Gilmore who intercepted the ball and evaded the defence to score under the posts for Munro to convert.

Munro added a penalty goal from in front of the North Harbour posts to seal the win for the side.

North Harbour halfback Matt France had a great battle with Hamilton, and the home halfback relished the chance to run with the ball. But it was the increased potency of the North Harbour loose forwards that made a significant difference.

Scorers:

North Harbour 23 (Rudi Wulf, Filo Paulo tries; Mike Harris 2 con, 3 pen) Northland 26 ( Lachie Munro, Brook Gilmore tries; Munro 2 con, 4 pen ). HT: 16-10