Rugby: Auckland beat North Harbor in Battle of the Bridge in National Provincial Championship opener


Auckland loose forward Blake Gibson celebrates Auckland’s win over North Harbour. Photo / Photosport

Auckland have claimed the spoils in the Battle of the Bridge.

In a high-action affair at Eden Park on Saturday night, the hosts were too much for North Harbour, claiming a 36-26 victory to kick their National Provincial Championship season off on the right foot.

The showcase match on the opening Saturday of the competition, the match had plenty to live up to after the matches earlier in the day, with Counties Manukau kicking a match-winning drop goal to beat Otago 23-22 and Waikato playing out a 32- all draw against Hawke’s Bay.

From the early exchanges, it seemed the Battle of the Bridge was going to follow in a similar fashion, with plenty of passion on display and intent on attack.

Young Blues stars Zarn Sullivan and AJ Lam were impressive throughout, while the boot of Harry Plummer from the kicking tee proved to be a difference maker. There was plenty to like for North Harbor too, with pack members like blindside flanker Cameron Suafoa putting in big shifts, while backs Mark Telea and Henry Taefu made their presence felt.

It was Auckland who opened the scoring in the sixth minute through a Plummer penalty goal, but North Harbor bagged the game’s first try just a minute later. The visitors earned a penalty try from a ruck infringement just meters from the try line, which saw Auckland lock Connor Vest spend 10 minutes in the bin.

Their lead was short-lived however, as Auckland center AJ Lam made a terrific read on the bounce of a kick, swooping onto the loose ball to pace to speed through the Harbor defense and get Auckland back in front.

But as had been the case all day in NPC fixtures, neither team could find a way to take a strangle hold of the contest. Within 20 minutes, four tries had been scored and Harbor held a 21-10 lead, but even then, Auckland were constantly threatening with the ball in hand.

The hosts cut into the lead just before the break through hooker Leni Apisai, of course scoring from a lineout drive. The gap was extended again early in the second half through Mark Telea, but a yellow card to Harbor prop Nic Mayhew opened up space for the Auckland attack, and they made the most of the numbers advantage. Running in tries through Zarn Sullivan and Soane Vikena in quick succession, Auckland pushed out to a 10-point lead of their own with about 20 minutes to play.

That was where things stayed, as Auckland held Harbor out to claim a good opening-round win.

In the Farah Palmer Cup, Canterbury pulled off a great escape in the Farah Palmer Cup, overturning a double-digit halftime deficit to claim a 36-31 win over Counties Manukau in Pukekohe.

It wasn’t a great start from the top of the table side as they went seven points – and a person – down after a chip from Counties wing Ruby Tui was knocked out of play over the dead ball line by lock Stacey Niao. Canterbury struck back soon after, but Counties pressed on from their strong start to hold a 21-10 lead at the break.

However, whatever the message was from the Canterbury coaching staff, if fired up the side who scored two tries in the space of six minutes to storm back into the game.

It remained a tight contest throughout as the sides traded the lead, but ultimately it was the visitors who took the spoils.

Elsewhere, Auckland topped Manawatu 32-5, Waikato beat Bay of Plenty 17-10, and Hawke’s Bay beat Northland 32-17.

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