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Mighty Manawatu into Championship decider

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Manawatu have defeated a willing Southland 23-18 in cloudy conditions at FMG Stadium in Palmerston North to book their place in the 2014 ITM Cup Championship Final.

Rain early in the day ensured that conditions were testing at times, while light drizzle fell later in the match.

However that did not attract from the quality of play even if both sides were guilty of some rudimentary handling errors early.

Turbo’s first five-eighth Simon Black, who kicked 13 points, was outstanding from the tee and in general play, while Manawatu’s pack was up for the occasion, putting Southland’s scrum under some serious heat throughout the game.

Black would strike over the semi-final’s first points in the ninth minute, and in the 14th fullback Nehe Milner-Skudder blazed the Stag’s defence for the opening try.

Taking a short ball of Kayne Hammington, the Manawatu backs had go forward ball thanks to a titanic scrum, allowing the home team’s fullback to cross.

Rob Foreman would come close in his 99th first class match, but the Stags wouldn’t be outdone, forcing some crucial turnovers on defence, the most notable from live wire wing Keanu Kahukura.

Lima Sopoaga would kick his team’s first points in the 18th minute when some over eager Turbos defenders flooded the ruck, but a reply by Black towards the end of the first half would give the hosts a 10-3 lead.

Sopoaga would kick the opening points of the second stanza as Southland came out roaring.

However despite the burgeoning start, Manawatu kept their calm and Black replied with a penalty three minutes later.

Cullum Gibbins would then score a marvellous solo effort, outpacing the left flanks of the Southland defence to score, and a conversion from Black made it 23-6.

The Stags would finish strongly, with Elliot Dixon collecting a try after Southland threw everything at Manawatu’s line on the 53rd minute.

The Turbos would keep the tourists pinned back, as both coaches looked to their benches, with nine changes in total in the final 20 minutes.

The Southland defence had lifted in the second half, and Kahukura would guarantee a grand stand finish when he responded to a ‘no-try’ to Manawatu to score in the 76th minute to make it a five point game.

However the Turbos replied in kind, unable to add any more points but their dominance in the territorial battle eventually gave them the well deserved triumph.

Manawatu 23

Tries: Milner-Skudder, Gibbins
Cons: Black (2)
Pens: Black (3)

Southland 18

Tries: Dixon, Kahukura
Cons: Sopoaga
Pens: Sopoaga (2)


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