Rugby: Counties Manukau outpace North Harbour

Counties Manukau's Adam Cathcart wins a lineout against North Harbour during an ITM Cup rugby match tonight in Auckland Photo / NZPA / Wayne Drought
Counties Manukau's Adam Cathcart wins a lineout against North Harbour during an ITM Cup rugby match tonight in Auckland Photo / NZPA / Wayne Drought

Counties-Manukau piled more misery on an increasing despondent North Harbour with a 40-32 national provincial championship rugby win at Pukekohe tonight.

Their electric backs, sparked by fullback Tim Nanai-Williams, provided high entertainment value to complement the labours of the forwards as Counties-Manukau registered their third win in eight matches after scoring five tries to four.

For North Harbour, it was their seventh loss and it came five days after their Ranfurly Shield challenge was denied by a last minute try by holders Southland.

Counties-Manukau made a sluggish start to trail 0-10 after just eight minutes following a fine try to North Harbour centre Rudi Wulf, who won the race to the ball near the dead ball line following a slashing run down the left-hand touchline by wing David Raikuna.

But from then on the home side's forwards muscled up while their dangerous backs more than matched their slick opposites.

Captain and hooker Mark Price began Counties-Manukau's fightback in the 14th minute when his pack disrupted a North Harbour scrum put in, harassed No 8 to effect a turnover before Price charged over the line from close range.

First five-eighth James Semple slotted a couple of penalties as Counties-Manukau hit the lead by the 23rd minute but that was shortlived as his opposite Ben Botica, who had a mighty match with a haul of 17 points, landed his second to reclaim the advantage for his team.

Both backlines endeavoured the spread the ball wide at every opportunity which made for a good spectacle, one the Counties-Manukau supporters appreciated even more when Nanai-Williams gave his side the halftime lead at 18-13 with a stunning individual try.

He beat three defenders in a spirited 40m run and when he was brought to ground he bounced up again to make the line.

Flanker Mark Selwyn extended their lead shortly after the restart by powering over off a ruck before Nanai-Williams was in the thick of the action again in the 54th minute when he powered through a hole to present wing Sherwin Stowers with an unimpeded route to the line.

North Harbour, who had collected their second try to No 8 Matt Luamanu 6min earlier, again came back, this time thanks to a solo 40m run from Botica, who casually strolled through a gap before evading the attention of two defenders.

Botica's conversion kept his side in the hunt at 27-32 before Stowers used his pace in the 69th minute to shoot through a hole and present a great offload for replacement back Bundee Aki to score.

That gave Counties-Manukau a 10-point buffer and some breathing space for a short period of time as Luamanu used his big frame to power over for his second try to halve the difference with 8min remaining.

But when Botica failed to convert and Counties-Manukau substitute Baden Kerr landed a penalty the home team held on down the stretch.

- NZPA

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