Auckland 22 - 20 Counties Manukau, ITM Cup
Auckland survive Steelers scare
September 4, 2013
Tom McCartney scores the decisive try
© Getty Images
The Blues prop-cum-hooker, who struggled at the set-piece, finished a well-worked lineout move to aquaplane across the whitewash six minutes from full-time. Simon Hickey, who scored 17 of Auckland's points, clinched the fourth and final change of lead to seal the win with a conversion from the right touchline that capped a flawless performance with the boot.
Counties Manukau were firm underdogs coming off a dismal loss to Tasman, as reflected by Auckland coach Wayne Pivac's decision to bench stars Piri Weepu and Luke Braid, but handling errors in the wet conditions ensured the territory battle was key and Counties first-five Ki Anufe excelled and kept his side in the attacking half for 55% of the opening stanza. Anufe also proved valuable from the kicking tee, nudging an impressive penalty over from half-way and converting tries from Frank Halai and Rey Lee-Lo.
Counties and coach Tana Umaga will rue uncharacteristic play from Sherwin Stowers either side of half-time: he made an impressive burst through a staggered defensive line from a kick return only to gift the hosts a turnover that saw Auckland draw first blood with a penalty goal from Hickey; he cost his side another three points when was sin-binned one minute into the second half for infringing at the ruck.
The visitors had come under fire for their poor performances at the set-piece in previous matches, but they were made to look like the dominant pack thanks to wayward lineout throws by Auckland's McCartney. And Anufe converted when Counties got their opportunities, The 2531 fans at Eden Park found it slightly entertaining when Anufe missed an ambitious attempt from 56 metres, but he proved his ability on his next attempt from a similar position to secure a 6-3 lead, Hickey squared the ledger with another penalty but a final scrum on the stroke of half-time provided Halai an opportunity to beat his opposite Tenina Sauileoge one-on-one to score in the right corner, and Anufe's conversion from the touch line gave the visitors with a healthy seven-point buffer.
Pivac was clearly disappointed with Auckland, who made five handling errors in the first 40 minutes, and he hooked Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Sean Polwart and George Moala at the break to be replaced by Angus Ta'avao, Luke Braid and Saleaula respectively.
Counties were stunned when referee Glen Jackson awarded a yellow card to Stowers for what he deemed to be a professional foul, and Hickey converted the penalty from in front before slotting another two moments later to claim momentum.
Counties thought they had done enough to claim the upset when Lee-Lo strolled over for a late converted try, but McCartney and Hickey ensured Auckland had the last laugh to sit second on the ladder.