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19th August 2010 10:45

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Comeback victory: North Harbour

North Harbour scored 26 unanswered points to bank a remarkable 35-23 ITM Cup win over Otago in Albany on Thursday.

Ahead 23-9 at half-time, Otago were kept scoreless for the remainder of the match as flanker Malakai Ravulo scored two tries after the break for Harbour - his second sealing the win in the dying minutes at North Harbour Stadium.

Fly-half Ben Botica and discarded All Blacks centre Luke McAlister - who shifted into the number ten role for the final 20 minutes - combined to kick seven penalties and two conversions, a total of 25 points coming via the boot for the hosts.

Otago managed to cross the line twice and looked like ending their three-match losing streak, however poor discipline saw them finish on the wrong side of a 15-5 penalty count from referee Bryce Lawrence.

Botica and opposite number Glenn Dickinson traded three-pointers before Otago prop Halani Aulika burrowed his way under the Harbour defence for the opening try. Dickinson added the extras to take the score out to 13-6 after 28 minutes.

Otago had two tries in two minutes after a restart error was snapped up by Ben Smith. The centre put in an intelligent grubber for speedy wing Joe Hill to collect. Dickson again slotted the extras for a 20-6 lead.

The two pivots again traded penalties, Harbour's 40 minutes of errors gifting Otago a 23-9 lead at the break. It was the southerner's game to lose - and so it transpired.

A half time rev-up from coach North Harbour coach Craig Dowd worked wonders as Botica added another penalty to narrow the gap to eight points.

It wasn't long until lock James King made a telling break and turned the ball inside to Fijian flanker Ravulo who dotted down behind the posts to close within one point of Otago.

McAlister then took over at fly-half in place of the subbed Botica and immediately slotted a penalty to nudge Harbour in front (25-23). Otago infringed yet again and McAlister knocked over a further three points.

And it was at 28-23 when the home team secured the win after Ravulo latched onto a speculator pass from Otago winger Fetu'u Vainikolo with three minutes to play and ran ten metres to score.

The win takes Harbour temporarily to the cusp of the top-seven on eight points (two wins, two losses), while Otago dropped their fourth straight match to start the season with just the solitary bonus point.

The scorers:

For North Harbour:
Tries: Ravulo 2
Cons: Botica, McAlister
Pens: Botica 5, McAlister 2

For Otago:
Tries: Aulika, Hill
Cons: Dickson 2
Pens: Dickson 3

North Harbour: 15 Jack McPhee, 14 Ken Pisi, 13 Jack Tarrant, 12 Luke McAlister, 11 Alipate Fatafehi, 10 Ben Botica, 9 Chris Smylie; 8 Richard Mayhew, 7 Malakai Ravulo, 6 Matt Luamanu, 5 Filo Paulo, 4 James King, 3 Ben Afeaki, 2 James Parsons, 1 Michael Reid (c).
Replacements: 16 Mike Mayhew, 17 Taione Vea, 18 William Whetton, 19 Tom Chamberlain, 20 Nalu Tuigamala, 21 Brendon Watt, 22 Nafi Tuitavake.

Otago: 15 Chris Small, 14 Joe Hill, 13 Ben Smith, 12 Josh Tatupu, 11 Fetu'u Vainikolo, 10 Glenn Dickson, 9 Sean Romans, 8 Adam Thomson, 7 Alando Soakai (c), 6 Paul Grant, 5 Hayden Triggs, 4 Hoani Matenga, 3 Sam Hibbard, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Kees Meeuws.
Replacements: 16 Peter Mirrielees, 17 Halani Aulika, 18 Seko Kalou, 19 Brad Cameron, 20 Johnny Legg, 21 Andrew Parata, 22 Paula Kinikinilau.

Referee: Bryce Lawrence

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1Wellington1042
2Canterbury1040
3Auckland1036
4Counties Manukau1028
5Waikato1021