Counties Manukau were untroubled to repel Thames Valley 68-0 last night in their first Ranfurly Shield defence of the season at ECOLight Stadium.

Steelers coach Tana Umaga handed debuts to 12 players, including the entire bench. But you wouldn't have known the Steelers were so green, such was their confidence.

The Steelers defied the wet conditions to use width and skill and lay on nine tries, plus a penalty try.

Thames Valley, predictably, started strongly but the eighth-placed 2013 Heartland Championship side were outgunned by a bigger pack which swiftly warmed to their set-piece duties.


That stable scrum laid the platform for the first try, to halfback Kane Hancy, after just eight minutes. The floodgates slowly creaked open.

Debutant fullback Jared Page ran freely and kicked well, scoring 33 points. Left wing Toni Pulu and centre Sam Vaka, who appeared in 2013, looked useful. No 8 Maama Vaipulu was direct and effective, his reward a double. First-five Ahsee Tuala showed his wide range of skills, and it would be nice to see more of him in that position. Hancy was busy and authoritative in his play.

The Swamp Foxes stuck to their guns and drove hard all night, but the gap in size and speed was too much. Virtually nothing was seen of centre Watisoni Lotawa, but lock Savenaca Tabakanalagi is tall and looks likely for the campaign ahead.

There was an amusing situation when the Thames Valley halves combination in the second spell was 41-year-old Aaron McDonald and 18-year-old Josh Turner.

Counties Manukau will see this their fourth successful defence as a solid starting point for 2014, with much still to sort out, notably kickoff receipts. Meads Cup champions Mid Canterbury travel north next Wednesday for the second Shield challenge.

Counties Manukau 68 (Jared Page 3, Maama Vaipulu 2, Kane Hancy, Toni Pulu, Karl Ropati, Luke Graham tries, penalty try; Page 6 con, 2 pen)
Thames Valley 0
HT: 35-0