Rugby: Counties in like lions, out like lambs

By Dylan Cleaver

Taranaki 28
Counties 19

David Smith's try helped take Taranaki to third on points difference. Photo / Getty Images
David Smith's try helped take Taranaki to third on points difference. Photo / Getty Images

Counties Manukau are the big improvers of this year's competition, but they are going to have to find a killer blow if they want to take their place among the big boys.

Up 10-0 and 13-3 against a reeling Taranaki yesterday, Counties let in two soft tries just when they should have been applying the vice to the throats of the home side.

On both occasions the finger could be pointed at talented try machine Ahsee Tuala, who was caught out of position when David Smith ambled down his wing, and was easily muscled off a loose ball by Kurt Baker shortly after.

Which is not to say Taranaki were not deserving of their victory, just that they wouldn't have expected such easy passage back into the match after Counties' ferocious start.

With the likes of big Fritz Lee tearing into every breakdown, Counties prop Simon Lemalu found the amber-and-black defence parted like the Red Sea for Moses when hustling over from 20 metres out.

Tim Nanai-Williams added two further penalties but Taranaki's two tries, one soft, one stunning, saw them close the gap to just one at the break.

When Tyson Keats added a third try after the break, Taranaki showed Counties just how to squeeze the life out of the game.

The win moves Taranaki to third on points difference ahead of Auckland, while Counties cling to their top-seven spot.

Both teams would have been disappointed not to have picked up a bonus point, particularly with such a congested top seven.

"A bonus point would have been nice, but we played some good rugby," said Taranaki captain Craig Clarke.

Auckland displayed better ball control in awful conditions to beat struggling Wellington 21-15 at Eden Park on Saturday night.

Former Hawkes Bay first five-eighths Matt Berquist showed his experience in scoring 16 of his side's points with a try, three penalties and a conversion, while promising lock Liaki Moli also crossed.

All Wellington's points came from the boot of debutant Lima Sopoaga.

When he nailed his fifth penalty in the 63rd minute, Wellington had brought the scores back within three, but Berquist replied minutes later.

Auckland, with their impressive defensive shield rarely tested, had no problem pulling down the shutters in the final 10 minutes.

Hawkes Bay and Waikato played out a draw, finishing 27-all after an absorbing see-saw encounter at McLean Park on Saturday.

An injury-time penalty opened the door for Hawkes Bay wing Richard Buckman to nonchalantly strike a sweet 48m three-pointer to secure the draw in the 83rd minute. Waikato led 12-6 at halftime.

- NZ Herald

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