It wasn't exactly the rollicking start to the ITM Cup that fans and the bigwigs at New Zealand Rugby were seeking.

The swirling wind and rain around New Plymouth's Yarrow Stadium put paid to that. But in the final analysis, both sides shared the spoils in this tryless, 9-9 Premiership stalemate.

Taranaki first five Marty McKenzie landed a 79th minute penalty to tie it up after the Steelers' replacement first five Baden Kerr landed a booming penalty goal from about 47m to give Counties Manukau the lead, against the run of play, with six minutes to go. Referee Nick Briant pinged Taranaki sub Leighton Price on what looked to be another of those 50-50 breakdown calls.

Taranaki had started to wear the Steelers down with field position and set-piece pressure in the second stanza. No 8 Blade Thomson carried with vigour and was the standout player of the match. Replacement Sione Lea came closest to scoring the first try of the season after he plunged over but the TMO ruled it was inconclusive.


The Steelers' potentially exciting backline was largely unemployed, though second five Bundee Aki did make a couple of promising forays. Their set-piece was iffy, at best.

The first spell was a stop-start affair, both teams making myriad errors in the dewy conditions. The highlights were two booming touch-finders by Taranaki halfback Jamison Gibson-Park, a shimmy by centre Charlie Ngatai, which should have yielded a try, and some muscular work by the 'Naki pack, in particular lock James Broadhurst, No 8 Thomson and flanker Berny Hall. The only points came from the boot of fullback Codey Rei.

Counties Manukau had more ball but could get little going, and were not helped by the absence of co-captain Tim Nanai-Williams, who was awaiting the birth of his first child.
Neither side could command clean lineout ball and so there was little in the way of stable platforms off which to work.

Taranaki will now travel to Hawke's Bay next Friday night, while the Steelers defend the Ranfurly Shield against Otago on August 23.

Tonight's Championship game sees Southland hosting Bay of Plenty in Invercargill.

Taranaki 9 (Codey Rei 2 pen, Marty McKenzie pen) Counties Manukau 9 (Baden Kerr 2 pen, Ahsee Tuala pen) HT: 6-0 Taranaki