Match report: Counties-Manukau salvage draw
August 10, 2007

Counties-Manukau crawled out of the Air NZ Cup rugby cellar as North Harbour surrendered a 10-point lead inside a frantic final stanza to share the spoils 13-13 at Mt Smart Stadium here tonight.

Counties-Manukau appeared set for a third successive loss before an inspirational converted try by Chiefs wing Lelia Masaga and a 45m penalty five minutes from fulltime from Samoan international Tanner Vili condemned North Harbour to a second draw in three outings.

North Harbour had been expected to bank maximum points against a team boasting the worst defence in the competition.

Instead, Counties-Manukau conjured up their first two points of the season despite barely threatening until Masaga wrong footed Rudi Wulf and beat three more would-be defenders before extravagantly dotting down centimetres inside the dead ball line in the 70th minute.

Troy Nathan added the extras and when James Hinchco was penalised at a ruck, Vili calmly tied up the contest.

The exertions of last weekend's arduous Ranfurly Shield defence against Taranaki was evident as North Harbour needed an hour to crack a Counties-Manukau defence which most recently coughed up 52 points against Canterbury.

Once a Tusi Pisi cutout pass put form centre Anthony Tuitavake on an untouched, angled run to the line in the 60th minute it appeared any prospect of a Counties-Manukau upset ebbed away as their discipline also flagged in the face of a relentless defensive workload.

But rookie second five-eighth Michael Harris missed two kickakable penalties, another was turned down in the quest for a try, and when Masaga weaved his magic North Harbour were again clinging on.

Pinned in their own territory for the bulk of the first spell, Counties-Manukau lived up to their tag on defence by scrambling to snuff out North Harbour attacks.

Number eight Taiasina Tuifua thwarted North Harbour's most threatening attack in the 21st minute when he stripped the ball from 130kg James Afoa as the prop powered over the line before being twisted on to his back.

Denied field position until they entered the North Harbour 22 for the first time in the 36th minute, Counties-Manukau won a penalty which Nathan turned into points.

Counties-Manukau's discipline was impressive in the first spell, with Harris offered just one shot at goal, a long range effort in the second minute that cannoned off an upright.

However, they may still be left to rue a crude stiff arm across the throat of Pisi by prop Simon Lemalu in the 13th minute.

Pisi was levelled by the blow, 1min after he potted the visitors only points of the half via a dropped goal.

Lemalu was penalised although the incident may also attract the attention of the New Zealand Rugby Union's citing commissioner.

Result of an Air NZ Cup rugby match at Mt Smart Stadium here tonight:-

North Harbour 13 (Anthony Tuitavake try; Michael Harris pen, con, Tusi Pisi dropped goal) Counties-Manukau 13 (Lelia Masaga try; Troy Nathan pen, con, Tanner Vili pen). Halftime: 3-3.

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