Rugby: Counties stun Auckland at the death

By Campbell Burnes

Counties Manukau 30 Auckland 26
Counties Manukau celebrate a try by Gafatasi Su`a. Photo / Getty
Counties Manukau celebrate a try by Gafatasi Su`a. Photo / Getty

The Counties Manukau Steelers have had more than their fair share of heartache this season, let alone against Auckland at Eden Park.

Close shaves in 1979, 1985 (most famously) and 2013 spring to mind on this ground. But now, for the first time since Hiwi Tauroa coached them in 1977, they have lowered their big brother on Eden Park.

It will not have done Steelers coach Darryl Suasua's heart much good after enduring his fifth tight result in six games, but he will enjoy the fact his side often played enterprising rugby mixed with a physical approach. And, most importantly, secured five golden points to rise to second, depending on the Shield game outcome, on the Premiership table. Auckland slipped to fourth.

"I was sitting up there in the coaches' box looking at another close loss, but Augie (Pulu), special player that he is, pulled a rabbit out of the hat," said Steelers coach Darryl Suasua. You could not wipe the smile off his face, understandably, after consecutive one-point losses to Wellington and Taranaki.

Auckland would often rely on the peerless boot of Grant Fox to see them through sticky situations from 1982-93. Captain and No 10 Simon Hickey almost saw them home today with six from six off the tee. But his accuracy was one of the few positives from another scratchy Auckland display.

"Even if we had won, it would have been fairly average, just a poor start again," said a disconsolate coach Nick White. "We don't value the ball and too many penalties... we just can't get into the game and build any pressure. We are not going to go much further if we keep on going like this."

The big early question was which of these two notoriously slow-starting sides was going to rip into their work from the get-go.

The Steelers answered that emphatically, setting the tempo and bringing their renowned physicality. It made for a niggly affair as both packs got in each other's faces. The scrums were many and varied, including a couple where the ball lay like an egg, unhooked, in the tunnel.

Steelers No 7 Jordan Taufua was again full of running, creating momentum for his team to work off, while Pulu scored the critical winning try with three minutes on the clock and often controlled the tempo. He might be making a run for the All Blacks' No 3 halfback berth. Lock Viliame Rarasea was again outstanding for the Steelers, and scored the opening try. Hooker Gafatasi Sua was clearly pumped about playing his old union, and his was a feisty display marked by a try which took them to a 15-0 lead. Wing Sione Fifita sliced through for a second half try which included bumping off Ofa Tu'ungafasi.

It was crazy, almost unfair, that Auckland took the lead for the first time in the 74th minute when fullback Latiume Fosita crossed. Hooker Greg Pleasants-Tate had scored their first try from a lineout drive.

Auckland suffered a blow even before kickoff when centre George Moala was ruled out, but their problems run deeper with their second defeat in a row at what was once a fortress. Flanker Blake Gibson copped a shoulder injury to his AC joint and may be in doubt for the next game.

Auckland travel to Rotorua for next Sunday's John Drake Boot clash with Bay of Plenty, while Counties Manukau are at home to Chiefs neighbours Waikato on Friday night.

Counties Manukau 30 (Viliame Rarasea, Gafatasi Sua, Sione Fifita, August Pulu tries; Piers Francis 2 con, 2 pen)
Auckland 26 (Greg Pleasants-Tate, Latiume Fosita tries; Simon Hickey 2 con, 4 pen)
HT: 15-6

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW
Stats provided by

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf04 at 02 Oct 2016 09:22:46 Processing Time: 738ms