Rugby: Counties defend Shield against Taranaki

By Andrew Alderson in Pukekohe

Counties coach Tana Umaga. Photo / Getty Images.
Counties coach Tana Umaga. Photo / Getty Images.

Counties-Manukau 44
Taranaki 7

The ground clock might have needed some gentle coaxing by hand to bring on half time but Counties-Manukau suffered no such lack of motivation in their first defence of the Ranfurly Shield.

The 44-7 victory over Taranaki was an emphatic start to the reign. Incisive running, vigorous tackling and co-ordinated support consistently had 12,000 fans rustling out of their seats into a state of revelry. The teams might have been wedged beside each other on the ITM Cup premiership table but Counties deserved to add to advance up the ladder. The three-week jinx where the Shield needed a Koru lounge pass to get from Waikato to Otago to Hawke's Bay to Counties-Manukau is over - at least until next Saturday when Waikato get a chance to complete the loop.

Counties looked to the manor born as hosts. A flock of fans swarmed through the turnstiles for the union's first defence in 58 years of existence. Nostalgia was in the air, literally, as the comforting aroma of hot chips and hot dogs wafted to the nostrils upon entry.

Adding to the theme, both teams wore hoops rather than any fancy avant garde patterns dreamed up by marketing gurus.

Taranaki fans also got into the spirit with hundreds making the journey. Children had the freedom to play their own games on the embankment while their heroes sealed the trophy in the cabinet for six days.

Steely Dan - the union mascot who bears a remarkable resemblance to Counties stalwart Jim Coe - was on hand to high-five the team for good luck as they entered the arena. Bags of potatoes were even distributed to some patrons just as a reminder of where you were. When Counties got a decent lead there was even some cheek from the ground announcer who pronounced "The Steelers 15, Oracle 0". Hallelujah too for dry weather, free-flowing Sunday afternoon rugby.

Local heroes were plentiful. To the fore was openside flanker Maama Vaipulu who needed the brownie points after causing a spot of grief for the union on Friday morning when a Facebook picture with the Shield spread across his loins after a pool session appeared in The Herald's Super Sport section. He delivered throughout.

Vaipulu set up tries, scrambled at the breakdown and locked himself to teammate shoulders in support. Lock Jimmy Tupou was another whose workrate was heavy and he was rewarded with a try. Hika Elliot sapped Taranaki's energy with bullocking runs, although the regular one-hand Colin Meads act with the ball is a recipe which might need tinkering.

Fritz Lee led through his actions while Baden Kerr's option-taking provided a steadying influence, as did his boot which kept the scoreboard ticking. Bundee Aki's sidestep and Frank Halai's power would have wearied any defence out wide.

Taranaki were often static, playing with width but getting minimal traction forward. Jamison Gibson-Park and Seta Tamanivalu provided moments of spark but it was diluted by local euphoria at seeing such a dominant performance.

Counties-Manukau 44 (H.Elliot, J.Tupou, F.Halai 2 tries, K.Hancy, R.Lee-Lo; B.Kerr 2 con, 2 pen, A.Tuala 2 con) Taranaki 7 (C.Carmichael try, B.Waaka con) Halftime: 25-0

- Herald on Sunday

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