Counties Manukau 44-7 Taranaki, ITM Cup
Steelers retain Ranfurly Shield
September 15, 2013
Hika Elliot got the Steelers off to a flying start
© Getty Images
The Ranfurly Shield has found a home. At least for another week. Having passed through four different provinces in the space of a fortnight, Counties Manukau broke the trend when they saw off the challenge of Taranaki at ECOLight Stadium in Pukekohe on Sunday.
The Steelers defended their prized possession with such passion against Taranaki that it seems almost unfair they must put the Log o' Wood on the line again in five days' time. But they must do so, and Waikato, in an ironic twist, get a chance to avenge their dejecting loss to Otago that began the shield's journey around the country on August 23. Having scored an emphatic 42-24 win over Auckland on Saturday, there's every chance that Waikato will reclaim the trophy, but Counties, meanwhile, will relish their defeat of the Amber and Blacks in front of a 12,000-strong crowd that turned out for the first shield match played in Pukekohe since the union's formation in 1958.
Taranaki fans enjoyed the day in Pukekohe © Getty Images
The shield not only brought life to the Steelers, who climbed to fourth on the Premiership ladder with their comprehensive victory, it also created an excitement rarely seen in these parts of the country.
"We knew Taranaki were a side capable of coming back at us," Steelers coach Tana Umaga said. "We really wanted to string it out and finish them off as much as possible. But to be honest, our major focus was to win back at home ... we've taken some hidings here. We wanted to get some respect back from our home crowd that came out to support us."
After last week's thrilling win over the Hawke's Bay, plenty was made of the way in which Hika Elliot and Jimmy Tupou steeled the tight five to have them menacing the opposition without ball in hand. The pair wasted no time in picking up where they left off, and they quickly put the Steelers on the front foot. Elliot opened the scoring when he emerged from a pile of bodies to perform a creative celebratory hand gesture after just four minutes, and Tupou crossed the whitewash five minutes later after openside Ma'ama Vaipulu had made the initial break inside Taranaki's 22.
Jimmy Tupou scored a try in another strong performance for the Steelers © Getty Images
Taranaki captain Kane Barrett then turned down a kickable penalty that would have provided some much-needed confidence, and Counties landed another blow through wing Frank Halai before Baden Kerr landed his second penalty of the afternoon to push the lead to 25 points. Taranaki coach Colin Cooper went about making something happen for the visitors by introducing Frazier Climo, Jamison Gibson-Park and James Broadhurst after what would have been an intense half-time talk, but it didn't work. Halai grabbed his second try two minutes after the restart, and the Steelers led 32-0.
Taranaki loose-head prop Carl Carmichael gave the few Amber and Blacks fans in the crowd something to cheer when he was awarded a try after what appeared to be a double movement, but that was as good as it would get for the woeful challengers. Kane Hancy and Rey Lee-Lo rubbed salt into the visitors' wounds when they scored tries in the dying stages, and the victors' day of joy was complete.
Frank Halai and Sherwin Stowers celebrate victory in Pukekohe © Getty Images