Counties retain Ranfurly Shield
September 21, 2013
Counties Manukau's winger Sherwin Stowers was a constant threat against Waikato
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Counties Manukau ensured their tenure with the prized Ranfurly Shield will last until at least the final round of the ITM Cup with a 37-25 bonus-point win over Waikato on Saturday afternoon.
If surviving their first season in the top flight wasn't enough motivation for Counties Manukau to have a good season, then the side's Ranfurly Shield tenure has sparked a revival that has swept the region.
The hosts' attack looked at its unpredictable best in broken play while their defence held firm despite patches of real pressure from the Waikato pack early in the first half.
Despite opening the scoring, Waikato barely looked in the game. They made charges to the line on a number of occasions and scored three tries in the process. But thoughts of going full circle and securing the Ranfurly Shield were left to only the most ardent of Waikato fans.
Counties Manukau were cheered on with a stirring war cry from the large crowd in attendance at ECOLight Stadium. The aural battle between Steelers supporters and cowbell-toting Waikato fans complemented what was a superb display of attacking rugby.
The bonus-point win sees Counties Manukau establish a healthy nine-point buffer between themselves and Waikato for fourth spot in the Premiership, though Waikato have a match in hand.
Counties Manukau were made to hard for their first-half lead, especially after Waikato were the first to score through Trent Renata after seven minutes. Renata's try was just reward for Waikato, who enjoyed a period of dominance in the opening 10 minutes and looked confident following their emphatic 42-24 victory over a previously unbeaten Auckland a week earlier.
The remaining 30 minutes belonged to the hosts, however, as they dined on some lacklustre defence in midfield en route to scoring twice through their Super Rugby-laden backline. Fullback Sherwin Stowers ran a brilliant line from the back of a brilliant short pass from Augustine Pulu to put the Ranfurly Shield defenders in the lead. That lead was extended when Pulu darted from the back of a ruck to score a try that gave Counties a 17-8 lead.
Renata kicked the second of his two penalties to reduce the margin to six before Baden Kerr secured his second penalty of the afternoon to restore the advantage to 20-11.
Counties Manukau scored the opening points of the second half through No.8 Fritz Lee, who showed superb athleticism to dive over the line and extend the lead to 16 points. Waikato refused to roll over, however, and were back within a converted try after some Tim Mikkelson brilliance set up a try eventually scored by flanker Rory Grice.
Waikato were soon in again through fly-half Sam Christie, and when Renata converted the deficit was cut to 25-30. But Counties Manukau held their nerve and responded almost immediately through winger Toni Pulu to restore a healthy 37-25 advantage.
Waikato replacement prop Paul Alo-Emile was yellow carded minutes later to compound Waikato's frustrations with 15 minutes to play before Augustine Pulu was yellow carded with minutes remaining.
The Shield will remain in the region until the final match of the season, when Counties do battle against a Southland side desperate to restore some pride to the province.
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