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Takapuna edges Shore in thriller

Flagstaff Team

See you later… North Shore flanker Donald Coleman (right) outsprints Takapuna winger Talimoni Finua

As local derbies go, this one had a bit of everything: some stunning tries, a last-minute conversion that hit the post denying North Shore Rugby Club premiers an unlikely comeback win against Takapuna, and a push and shove that threatened to turn into an all-out brawl.

For most of the match, Takapuna was the superior side, looking sharp on attack. Early in the second half, its pack pushed the Shore eight off the ball twice within five minutes, yielding penalties, with ace Takapuna goal kicker Jon Elrick landing one of them. When Takapuna scored a try immediately after (converted by Elrick) at 27-14, they looked to have an unassailable lead.

Expert view… All Black and North Shore great Wayne Shelford takes in the action

A head-high tackle by Shore’s James Little straight after saw Elrick’s only penalty miss of the day from 45 metres. Takapuna’s forwards and backs were combining brilliantly, and with Shore trapped in its own half, the visitors were threatening to run riot.

Step up Donald Coleman, the Shore flanker, who had already scored a snappy try in the first half. He pounced on a ball when Takapuna was on attack and ran 60 metres to score, outsprinting Takapuna winger Talimoni Finua, who had given chase. Sam Baab landed a tricky conversion, and at 27-21 Shore still had a slight chance.

Then with 10 minutes to go, sniping and pushing between Takapuna centre Fine Inisi and Shore fullback Daniel Lee erupted into a full-on stoush, with reserves and sidelined players rushing onto the field to join the melee.

Inisi was sin-binned and with Takapuna down to 14 men, Coleman again worked his magic with a scintillating 40-metre break, before a well-timed pass to Callum Law saw the Shore first five score in the corner. It was 27-26 Takapuna, with time up on the clock. Babb struck the conversion well, but it clipped the right-hand upright and failed to go over.

Shore rues narrow loss… Shore goalkicker Sam Baab (left) watches his last-minute conversion hit the the post

Both sides will go away with plenty to think about: Takapuna for letting a dominant position slip away to a near loss, and Shore needing to do some work on its scrum and ponderous attack. Apart from Law, Coleman and substitute Caleb Leef, there was little penetration.

James Little (foreground) and Callum Law reflect on what might have been

What to say about Coleman: a brilliant attacker and runner with the ball from broken play. But not a particularly decisive tackler or tight loose forward. There has been talk of moving him into hooker, but maybe his best position is second five eighth?

A special mention to referee Jonathan Paterson, who controlled the flare-up well. The tussle could have easily escalated into a much messier situation.

• In a spirited premier reserves match, North Shore beat Takapuna 15-13 after doggedly defending for the final ten minutes.

• Takapuna Grammar 1st XV lost 17-14 away to Rangitoto, in a match that was televised live on Sky Sports.

The large crowd present were expecting a close match and they weren’t disappointed

This article originally appeared in the May 17 edition of The Devonport Flagstaff. Download PDF.