Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Auckland edge Counties

Bundee Aki of Counties Manukau (R) fends off the defence during the round 11 ITM Cup match between Auckland and Counties Manukau at Eden Park. Photo / Getty Images.
Bundee Aki of Counties Manukau (R) fends off the defence during the round 11 ITM Cup match between Auckland and Counties Manukau at Eden Park. Photo / Getty Images.

Auckland 22
Counties Manukau 18

Sorting out the city's sports stadium fiasco might have been an easier task than the duel facing Auckland and Counties Manukau at Eden Park.

Sod's law in the guise of rain rolled in to upset much of the spectator and player anticipation about this contest between the ITM Cup division leaders.

It shrank both teams expansive interests and blighted their individual skills on a slick and slippery surface.

Territory became gold, possession not always so as players needed a fraction more time to adjust their handling and thoughts when they had the ball.

While some of the ambition had to be harnessed there was no reduction in the passion from both sides.

There was no leeway from referee Nick Briant either as he penalized both sides for leaving their feet or playing the ball at rucks.

He sin binned Counties Mahonri Schwalger but fortunately that early second half did not decide the match.

The timing of this cross-border battle was spooky but it lifted the intrigue after the Blues revealed their signing and unwanted list.

As the region debated the merits of hired five eighths Baden Kerr and the dispatched Gareth Anscombe, their provincial sides prepared for last night's battle.

It promised to be a decent stoush but the fickle late week weather reduced some of the walkup crowd to 6125 and shrank plans for adventure.

From kickoff, it was clear that footing would be awkward on the greasy surface, that a direct approach and more kicking would be beneficial.

Counties seemed to comprehend that concept much more than Auckland although the hosts produced the most damaging attempts at the tryline.

They collected an early try when flanker Sean Polwart finished a series of raids starting from a lineout take in the Counties 22.

That promise in the 8th minute was the solitary try of the half, a fact which got some of the bullish crowd a little exasperated as halftime drew close.

They showed some of their displeasure when Kerr lined up another penalty attempt but were then forced to applaud the new Blues signing when he split the goalposts once more.

Five from five in the opening half, from the sidelines and pushing out to near halfway, were all efforts to encourage him, Counties and the Blues staff looking towards next season.

Anscombe was equally sharp. Several of his attempts were from closer range but he did not miss any of his four attempts.

Both five eighths organized their lines well while Kerr, perhaps with more possession, was able to show skills with either foot and an ability to run and defend up in the line.
But there was not much in it, just like a half of rugby which ended with Auckland ahead 16-15 before more showers greeted players as they resumed after the interval.

Auckland (Sean Polwart, tries; Gareth Anscombe con, 5 pen)
Counties ( Baden Kerr 6 pen) Halftime: 16-15

- NZ Herald

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