Rugby: Steelers show their mettle as Auckland's start misfires

By Steve Deane

Counties-Manukau 17
Auckland 6

Ultimately, Counties Manukau know their fate is out of their own hands.

They can pull off all the gargantuan upsets they like, but it will have little impact on whether they remain in domestic rugby's elite division when two or three teams are culled from the current 14 for next year.

But that realisation did not dim the Steelers' unrestrained joy yesterday as they pulled off the biggest shock in a round of shocks, beating Auckland for the first time in a decade.

"At the end of the day that is out of our hands," jubilant Steelers coach Greg Aldous said of his reborn team's chances of survival. "All that we can really concentrate on is what we do on the park. We have done that. We'll let those other guys down in Wellington make those decisions for us."

Auckland will have major concerns ahead of Sunday's Ranfurly Shield defence against Taranaki. They were bullied in the scrums, harried in the lineouts and unable to finish a host of second-half breaks.

They led 6-0 through two Lachie Munro penalties, but a Niva Ta'auso try put the Steelers ahead midway through the second half. Veteran five-eighths Tanner Vili came off the bench to finish with a long-range drop goal and a try four minutes from time.

Auckland coach Pat Lam had warned his young side what was coming, but they were unable to deal with the passion and, in fairness, better execution of Counties. "We just didn't execute our game and we paid the price," Lam said.

"It has been a great week for the teams that are trying to survive. It is no coincidence that those teams have stepped up. They are all in survival mode. You can have game plans and all that, but at the end of the day the team that wants it the most and is passionate about it will always step up.

For 32-year-old journeyman Vili, the victory was especially sweet

"I was born and raised in Auckland but I never played for them, so just to beat them is better than playing for them," he said.

Taranaki will have noted Auckland's frailties, and Lam will have his work cut out lifting his side. "You can turn it around in a week, and that's what we have to do," he said. "Well done to Counties, they thoroughly deserved it."

The result suggests Auckland's reservoir of talent is not deep enough to cope with the numerous departures of the past two years, but Lam remained confident. "The talent is definitely there, it is just experience. We saw that with Tanner. He came on and really closed the game down well for them. That is experience. He has been there and done that before."

- NZ Herald

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