Rugby: Tasman topple Counties

By Daniel Richardson

Tevita Koloamatangi of Tasman fends off Tyrone Lefau of Counties Manukau. Photo / Getty Images
Tevita Koloamatangi of Tasman fends off Tyrone Lefau of Counties Manukau. Photo / Getty Images

Tasman booked their place in the semifinals of the ITM Cup with a 28-19 win over Counties Manukau in Pukekohe tonight.

With one game to go in the regular season - which will be against the winless North Harbour in Nelson on Saturday - just who Tasman will meet in the playoffs remains to be seen but they will definitely be in the top four of the second tier of the competition.

Counties, who have been the form side of the championship under Tana Umaga's coaching, just looked flat and failed to fire, although they have suffered a couple of key injuries in recent weeks.

Robbie Malneek, who was playing his 100th provincial game - 28 for the Nelson Bays and 72 for Tasman - bagged the first try of the contest for the visitors when he produced a brilliant solo effort as he kicked the ball in to space, regathered it and showed impressive gas to cross under the posts.

Peter Betham, who has been one of the dominant wings in this year's ITM Cup, then extended Tasman's advantage mid-way through the first half when he ran on to a Tom Marshall kick to score in the right-hand corner.

Tasman appeared to blindside Counties, who didn't expect such a spirited showing from the amalgamated union made up of Marlborough and Nelson Bays.

Counties fullback Tim Nanai-Williams was forced in to the goalkicking duties after Steelers pivot Baden Kerr was taken from the field in the opening stages with a suspected concussion.

Nanai-Williams came in to the game having only made two from nine attempts off the tee this season but he was a perfect three from three in the opening 40 minutes as he kept the home side in the game.

The Steelers were given a ray of hope in the final quarter when lock Jimmy Tupou scored his first ITM Cup try and Nanai-Williams added the extras, but nine points was as close as they could get to a red-hot Makos outfit.

There was a momentum-stopping break in the 67th minute of the game when referee Garratt Williamson had to leave the paddock with an injury; he was replaced by James Imlach who was given the chance to control an ITM Cup game for the first time but he looked assured with the whistle.

Counties, who still sit atop the Championship table despite suffering their third loss of the campaign, round out the regular season on Saturday afternoon when they meet Northland in Whangarei.

Tasman 28 (Peter Betham 2, Robbie Malneek tries; Tom Marshall 2 con, 3 pen)
Counties-Manukau 19 (Jimmy Tupou try; Tim Nanai-Williams 4 pen, con) HT: 15-9

- APNZ

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