Sat, 15 Oct 2016
The Counties Manukau Steelers lived up to their name with a toughened performance over current Mitre 10 Cup champions Canterbury at ECOLight Stadium in Pukekohe.
The five-tries to two victory ensured the Steelers will qualify for the semifinals of the Premiership for the first time since 2013, with results at the weekend to determine if they finish third of fourth.
The 33-21 victory was their first over Canterbury since 1998, and built on a simply stunning display by the inspirational Jordan Taufua, who, ironically, returns to Christchurch next month to re-join the Crusaders.
The extent of the dominant performance was hardly predictable when Canterbury enjoyed 98 percent of possession in the opening 20 minutes, although the visitors only had an early penalty by Jordie Barrett to show for their efforts.
Counties Manukau took a 7-6 advantage into the halftime break, after battling into a strong breeze in the opening 40 minutes, but took charge in the second half with four further tries.
The propensity to run the ball at all costs and playing into a stiffening wind meant the home side spent much of the first half camped inside their own territory. It took 20 minutes before they even ventured into enemy territory for the first time.
However, their staunch defence meant the visitors never seriously threatened the line, with penalties to the Hurricanes-bound Barrett the only additions to the scoreboard.
From that first charge into Canterbury territory, the Steelers pushed hard, and off back-to-back penalties, they charged at the line through Taufua before Toni Pulu ventured in from his wing to dive over in the tackle.
They lost pivotal first-five Piers Francis to injury and winger Sione Fifita to a yellow card for a highly questionable ruling of a deliberate knock-on.
An early second half penalty for Canterbury was countered by a sweeping movement with Taufua again prominent, finished wide out on the opposite wing by prop Pauliasi Manu.
The visitors retook the lead with a try by replacement prop Daniel Lienert-Brown but it was short-lived with a stunning piece of Toni Pulu magic, with a solo try from 40m out, gave them a 21-16 advantage with 17 minutes to play.
Despite losing inspirational co-captain Jimmy Tupou to injury, the home side took it up a gear, with a barging try to Cardiff Vaega and the result cemented with a try to replacement halfback Richard Judd after a piece of Sam Vaka brilliance.
While the Steelers attack was typically dynamic, much of the success came from their outstanding team defence.
While Taufua was quite simply dynamic, there were exemplary performances from Manu and Tupou in the open, from halfback Augustine Pulu including some brutal tackling of bigger foe, and also Toni on the wing.
Assistant coach Grant Henson said it was a great result and awesome to be alive for another week in the Mitre 10 Cup.
"We are happy as. We will have a few sore bodies after that one for next week, but we scored five tries and the way the boys stepped up in that 20 minute period was outstanding.
"We have a great bunch of guys here. They love their code like everyone else and we are very proud."
Counties Manukau Steelers 33 (Toni Pulu 2, Pauliasi Manu, Cardiff Vaega, Richard Judd tries; Piers Francis 1 conversion, Luteru Laulala 3 conversions)
Canterbury 21 (Daniel Lienert-Brown, Nathan Earle tries; Jordie Barrett 3 penalties, 1 conversion)