Match Reports

Steelers sink Canterbury; but home semi still secure

Counties Manukau ran out 33-21 winners over competition leaders Canterbury in Pukekohe, to secure their spot in the Mitre 10 Cup Premiership playoffs. Canterbury had already locked in a home semi-final, with their spot at the top of the table guaranteed before Saturday afternoon's loss.
 
After a dour first half, Counties Manukau coach Daryl Suasua instructed the Steelers to play with more energy and enterprise in the second half. Led by livewire half back Augustine Pulu and dynamic loose forward Jordan Taufua, Counties Manukau did exactly that by running in four second half tries to send Canterbury to just their second loss of the season.

The first half was a war of attrition. Canterbury dominated possession but couldn’t cross the Steelers line as their handling let them down at crucial times. The home side lacked ideas with ball in hand in the first half, but took their one opportunity to score when returning wing Toni Pulu crashed over after a steady build up to take the 7-6 halftime lead.

With just one competition point needed to make the playoffs, the home crowd grew nervous early in the second half as Canterbury took a 9-7 lead through a third Jordie Barrett penalty. To compound matters for the Steelers, key playmaker Piers Francis and hard running loose forward Jimmy Tupou were taken off the field with injury and wing Sione Fifita was yellow carded for an intentional knock down.

Regular fullback Luteru Laulala slotted well into the pivots role as Counties Manukau took the game to Canterbury.

The Steelers big forward ball runners caused plenty of trouble around the fringes of the ruck to draw close to the line before prop Pauliasi Manu barged over to snatch the lead back.

It was only to be short lived though as replacement Canterbury prop Daniel Lienert-Brown scored with his first touch of the ball to put Canterbury in front.

With their season on the line, the Steelers laid on a flawless 15 minutes to put Canterbury out of the game and confirm their spot in the playoffs. 

With the sun shining in Pukekohe, Toni Pulu grabbed his second try from a scintillating counter attack run before Cardiff Vaega was too strong close to the line to secure the crucial four-try bonus point.

Although the Steelers needed just one bonus point to make the playoffs, they weren’t done as centre Sam Vaka carved through the Canterbury defence to set up replacement half back Richard Judd to score their fifth try. Nathan Earle crossed in corner for a late consolation try for Canterbury but it was to be the Steelers day as they secured their first win over Canterbury since 1998.

Counties Manukau captain Augustine Pulu said: “We knew this was going to be a tough game and prepared to win. They are one of the best teams at holding the ball in hand so we had to keep applying the pressure on defence and make sure that we made our one-on-one tackles.”

SCORERS:
Counties Manukau 33 (Toni Pulu 2, Pauliasi Manu, Cardiff Vaega, Richard Judd tries, Piers Francis con, Luteru Laulala 3 con)

Canterbury 21 (Daniel Lienert-Brown, Nathan Earle tries, Jordie Barrett 3 pen, con)  HT: 7-6

Match report courtesy of www.mitre10cup.co.nz (adapted)