Rugby: Counties Manukau painted into a corner

By Campbell Burnes

Tony Pulu returns back to action for the Steelers. Photo / Getty
Tony Pulu returns back to action for the Steelers. Photo / Getty

Mitre 10 Cup crossover
Otago v Counties Manukau
Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Saturday, 5.35pm

Counties Manukau's insipid display against the Tasman Makos last week has painted them into a corner.

It all means they face a must-win crossover clash against a hurting Otago side in Dunedin tomorrow as they contemplate a Premiership logjam for the three semifinal berths after Canterbury.

On the plus side, Chiefs wing Toni Pulu returns from a broken finger to take his place on the bench, which will add to their outside firepower.

On the minus side, in-form halfback Augustine Pulu was suspended for this match after a dangerous tackle against the Makos.

"The (suspension) could have been worse. He was cited, and it wasn't great technique," says Steelers coach Darryl Suasua, who has handed another opportunity to Richard Judd in the No 9 jersey.

Former Samoan Under 20s captain Josh Dowsing, who has been playing well for the Counties Manukau Bs, comes onto the bench, though there was some red tape to clear on his eligibility. If that did not go as planned, the seasoned Onosa'i Auva'a was to wear the No 20 jersey.

The Steelers have done some serious soul-searching in their review of the disappointing 15-10 defeat by the Makos though, in light of what the Makos did to Auckland last night, they are clearly a strong semifinal contender.

"One of the things was that we brought into a kicking game, which isn't really our game. We prefer to keep the ball in hand," says Suasua. "But the Makos are a reasonable team and very smart."

So to Otago, fresh off a 54-17 shellacking by Auckland. They still lead the Championship, but seek home final advantage.

"Auckland didn't do us any favours at all. That wasn't Otago's best work, but they are a technically sound team," says Suasua.

"It's a must-win for us... that table is now a logjam. We've probably got to win both our games to make the semifinals."

Should Waikato beat Hawke's Bay tomorrow night, the Mooloos will remain in the calculations, so this is moving weekend in the Premiership.

Otago have lost captain and No 8 Paul Grant to injury, but have called up prop Josh Hohneck, who will bolster the scrum with his Highlanders' experience before he jets off to a Gloucester contract next month. Scott Eade replaces Fletcher Smith in the No 10 jersey, while prolific tryscorer Naulia Dawai replaces Grant at the back of the scrum.

*Live commentary of this match is on Radio Sport and iHeart Radio from 5.35pm on Saturday.

Otago: Michael Collins, Mitchell Scott, Sio Tomkinson, Teihorangi Walden, Fa'asiu Fuatai, Scott Eade, Jonathan Ruru, Naulia Dawai, James Lentjes, Adam Knight, Tom Franklin, Blair Tweed, Donald Brighouse, Sam Anderson-Heather (c), Craig Millar; Reserves: Seko Pole, Jonah Aoina, Josh Hohneck, Josh Dickson, Sione Teu, Kaide Whiting, Fletcher Smith, Matt Faddes

Counties Manukau: Luteru Laulala, Sione Fifita, Sam Vaka, Cardiff Vaega, Sherwin Stowers, Piers Francis, Richard Judd, So'otala Fa'aso'o, Jordan Taufua, Jimmy Tupou (c), Matiaha Martin, Viliame Rarasea, Kalolo Tuiloma, Gafatasi Sua, Sean Bagshaw; Reserves: Hika Elliot, Pauliasi Manu, Sione Faletau, Matt Vaai, Josh Dowsing, Jonathan Taumateine, Joe Reynolds, Toni Pulu

- NZ Herald

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