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Gatland drop goal seals Harbour win

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 28/10/2016

Bryn Gatland © Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images Bryn Gatland North Harbour have battled their way into the top tier of provincial rugby, winning a bruising NPC championship final 17-14 over Otago in Dunedin.

Bryn Gatland's 80th minute drop goal proved the difference between the two teams after Otago skipper Tom Franklin levelled the scores at 14-14 seven minutes into the second half.

Missed penalties cost Otago dearly, Scott Eade dragging two wide in the last 15 minutes of a tense match which featured outstanding defence and an increasingly tactical kicking game from both sides.

Otago found their rhythm early, building phases before shifting the ball wide and finding winger Fa'asiu Fuatai storming down the left wing to score in the corner after barely two minutes.

Harbour looked in real trouble when they lost flanker Glenn Preston for collapsing the maul as Otago rumbled towards the line in the 14th minute.

However, they hit back four minutes later when second five-eighth Michael Little showed real strength to shoulder through the Otago defence for the try.

North Harbour's line speed on defence continued to pressure Otago's passing game, and much of the battle for control was fought out in the middle of the park.

Harbour had their problems in attack, their ball security in the tackle often lacking, but their defence was consistently solid.

Otago looked set to take a 7-5 lead into the break, but Gatland nailed a 50m penalty in the 39th minute and another in the 44th to give Harbour an 11-7 halftime lead.

Otago continue to concede penalties after the restart, Gatland slotting home a third for Harbour after three minutes.

But it took only another five minutes before Otago levelled the scores, capitalising on an aimless clearing kick from Gatland.

Fullback Michael Collins gathered it in, kicked in behind the Harbour defence, and Franklin was on hand from the quick recycle to power over from close range.

Otago called on the experience of hooker Andrew Hore off the bench for the final 20 minutes, but not even the 38-year-old former All Black could inspire their first NPC championship win in 18 years.

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