21st August 2004
Referee: Kelvin Deaker
Half Time: Canterbury 30 - 13 North Harbour
Full Time: Canterbury 43 - 43 North Harbour
Saturday was one of those days that could have gone either way weather-wise. The sun was shining cheerfully off and on, but fairly threatening grey clouds were also skulking about. So like many Cantabs, the Rugbyheads didn’t pre-buy tickets and instead walked up to the ticketing booth at the Stadium just before the game.
The stadium filled steadily through the first half and by the end of the match, the turnstiles had registered a pretty decent turnout (15000 according to the official head count).
Caleb Ralph was missing from the planned Canterbury starting lineup, replaced by Scott Hamilton on the wing.
For the first half, we positioned ourselves at the North end of the ground where of course, Canterbury would be scoring all their tries. In that at least, we weren’t disappointed. After the initial minor setback of allowing Rico Gear to bolt through a flimsy defensive effort and run Nick Evans in for a try, the Canterbury machine chugged into life.
Ben Blair slotted a couple of penalties, then a nice try to Captain Broomhall following a bullocking run seemingly straight through the middle of a ruck by Corey Flynn had Canterbury in front for the first time.
The crowd perked up, my son began his exhibition belching session and the youngest daughter partially deafened me in the right ear with a particularly loud blast on her whistle. It was all good.
Two more Cantab tries before halftime left us feeling confident. Despite the North Harbour backs always looking dangerous and a few too many turnovers at tackle time going their way too, we couldn’t help feeling a good win was on the cards.
For most of the first half we had been plotting to sneak to the other side of the ground at half time and climb to the dizzy heights of the upper bowl of the Paul Kelly stand.
But before we set off, Jules wisely observed that there was no sunshine up there and a pretty chilly wind would be blowing right into the stand. So cunningly revising our plans, we shuffled 80 metres sideways and parked in the sunshine at the other try line to watch the rest of Canterbury’s tries.
Unfortunately it was not to be.
Barely two minutes into the second half, North Harbour found second gear. Hosea Gear to be exact. Following big brother Rico’s example, he cut through the backline and scored a try which signalled a change of fortunes for both teams.
Being a nasty greedy Northerner, Hosea Gear selfishly punished Canterbury again just a few minutes later with another try which provided evidence that maybe big bro Rico is in fact the second Gear.
Throw in a penalty kick slotted by North Harbour’s Luke McAlister and suddenly the 30-13 halftime score line had become 30-28. Add another three pointer to that in the 53rd minute, and without much effort at all, Canterbury had squandered a large lead. We didn’t cry... much.
Still, the crowd hadn’t been completely silenced. Ben Blair punished the evil cheating North Harbour boys with two penalties.
A late charge by the Red and Black machine, spurred on by loud cheers and chanting from the crowd resulted in a try to replacement George Naoupu.
With less than ten minutes to play, at 43 - 31 the game was surely Canterbury’s.
Not... Bugger! Why won’t those North Harbour boys admit they are beat and give up!
With five minutes to go, Harbour scored a try from a lineout, which they had (grudgingly) earned. Crucially as it turns out, the conversion was not slotted because that meant a converted try would only level the scores.
North Harbour went on to prove the maths by scoring a brilliant try from just inside their own half. Nick Evans who had been dangerous all day at first five worked a slick move with Rico Gear, somehow managing to make some room down the right hand touchline from nothing at all.
The final score was 43 all.
Fitzy would have been proud, as it was truly a game of two halves. Canterbury won the first 30 - 13. North Harbour won the second 30 - 13.
From a spectator’s point of view, it was a great game to watch. But from an NPC standings point of view, neither team would have been happy with the draw at all.
Canterbury’s sloppy defence was their downfall. But as Jules pointed out, the North Harbour backline, from Number 12 out is comprised of big powerful hard running seven’s style players. Not easy to stop at the best of times.
Lets hope the Cantabs can plug some of the defensive gaps before the next game against Otago on Friday night!