North Har­bour close in on semi­fi­nal spot

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Al­bany: Not that he would say as much, but North Har­bour coach Steve Jack­son knows his team have one foot in the Cham­pi­onship semi­fi­nals af­ter a 44-34 win over Bay of Plenty yes­ter­day. Har­bour picked up five com­pe­ti­tion points in the six tries to five win over the Steam­ers and more im­por­tantly they gave them­selves more breath­ing space over BOP who are fifth in the standings. Har­bour are now six points clear of the Steam­ers and with a game in hand. Com­mon sense sug­gests they won’t blow it from here. “We didn’t speak about that all week, we knew as a man­age­ment group that it was a re­ally im­por­tant game and it was the same for the lead­er­ship group,” Jack­son said. “But we didn’t let on to the boys, although they knew how much we needed this game. “To come away with it edges us a lit­tle bit closer, but we’re not there yet and we know we’ve got a big game com­ing up this week. “We’ll en­joy tonight, but wake up in the morn­ing and look for­ward to play­ing Can­ter­bury.” That game against Can­ter­bury on Fri­day will be their sec­ond Ran­furly Shield chal­lenge of the year, hav­ing lost 26-15 to North Har­bour in round two. Af­ter that, Har­bour play Tas­man and North­land and if they con­tinue to play like they did against the Steam­ers a semi­fi­nal spot should be as­sured. It was an im­pres­sive dis­play on at­tack from Har­bour with Te­vita Li bag­ging two tries, man of the match Matt Duffie set­ting up two and scor­ing one, while cap­tain Chris Vui, Matt Vaega and Nic May­hew scored the other Har­bour tries. The Steam­ers con­tin­u­ally strug­gled with Har­bour’s pace out wide and once Jack­son’s side stopped drop­ping the ball so much, which was a prob­lem in the first half, they looked an im­pres­sive out­fit.

“We spoke about ball se­cu­rity at half­time,” Jack­son said. Bay of Plenty’s New Zealand Sev­ens player, Teddy Stan­away scored his side’s only try in the first half, as they trailed 20-10 at the break. Re­sults: Tas­man 15-10 Coun­ties Manukau,Welling­ton 60– 21South­land, Hawke’s Bay 30-21 Manawatu, Auck­land 54 – 17 Otago. -Stuff .

in an­other era but Can­ter­bury coach Scott Robert­son won’t al­low such non­sense ahead of the match against Taranaki this af­ter­noon. First five-eighth Richie Mo’unga, who shifts to the re­serves for this Mitre 10 fix­ture in New Ply­mouth, had this to say about Can­ter­bury’s postgame cel­e­bra­tions fol­low­ing their 29-23 win in the shield chal­lenge against Waikato in Hamil­ton on Wed­nes­day night. “We had a few beers, but there was noth­ing silly.” So there you have it. Hav­ing cap­tured the log o’ wood for the first time since they last held it in 2011 the play­ers were per­mit­ted to have a dig at the bar, but were mind­ful they needed to com­plete a re­cov­ery ses­sion be­fore climb­ing on a bus for the trip south the next day. It sounds a bit bor­ing when you read it in black and white, but the crammed sched­ule of the do­mes­tic provin­cial com­pe­ti­tion means the days of re­peat sets of par­ties fol­low­ing shield raids are gone. There is also the is­sue of Robert­son not want­ing his men to make fools of them­selves against a Taranaki team well ca­pa­ble of ex­ploit­ing a side on the come­down af­ter such a quick turn­around. Given this will be Can­ter­bury’s third match in eight days Robert­son has gone into ro­ta­tion-mode, mak­ing six changes. The most no­table is at first-five where Ben Volavola will start, mean­ing Mo’unga, who has ap­peared in seven of Can­ter­bury’s games in ad­di­tion to 16 for the Cru­saders, is on the bench. Robert­son has made two amend­ments to his front row, start­ing Daniel Lienert-Brown at loose-head prop and Nathan Vella at hooker. Lock David McDul­ing comes into lock, half­back Alby Mathew­son is at half­back and Ge­orge Bridge will get a run on the left wing. By elect­ing to name Bridge in the No 11 jersey, Robert­son has shifted Nathan Earle to the right flank. Post-shield come­downs have a nasty habit of blow­ing-up in the holder’s face, a re­sult of the play­ers not be­ing in de­cent shape, men­tally and phys­i­cally, for the next scrap. Mo’unga was never go­ing to say oth­er­wise, but he seemed gen­uine when he backed Can­ter­bury to not fall to pieces.

Pride, he said, plays a big part in that: “This team wants to be the best it can be.” Taranaki have banked five wins from seven games, and are sec­ond on the premier­ship ta­ble be­hind Can­ter­bury who, with three games to play in the reg­u­lar sea­son, are well placed to host a home semi­fi­nal. Can­ter­bury: Johnny McNi­choll, Nathan Earle, Jack Good­hue, Jordie Bar­rett, Ge­orge Bridge, Ben Volavola, Alby Mathew­son, Luke White­lock (cap­tain), Jed Brown, Reed Prin­sep, David McDul­ing, Scott Bar­rett, Si­ate Toko­lahi, Nathan Vella, Daniel LienertBrown. Re­serves: Ben Fun­nell, Alex Hodg­man, Oli Jager, Do­minic Bird, Billy Har­mon, Jack Strat­ton, Richie Mo’unga, Inga Finau.

Taranaki: Stephen Pero­feta, De­clan O’Don­nell, Seta Ta­mani­valu, Sean Wainui, Latu Vaeno, Marty McKen­zie, Kylem O’Don­nell, Iopu Iopu-Aso, Berny Hall (c), Mitchell Brown, Leighton Price, Ben Matwi­jow, Ryan Cocker, Rhys Mar­shall, Mitchell Gra­ham. Re­serves: Sione Lea, Jared Prof­fit, Reuben O’Neill, Lach­lan Boshier, Toa Halafihi, Te Toiroa Tahu­ri­o­rangi, Johnny Fa’auli, Jack­son Or­mond. Stuff

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