WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 8, 2014
It was a night to forget for Auckland, not only on the scoreboard, but on the injury front as well as they went down to a record ITM Cup loss, 18–41, to Counties Manukau at Pukekohe on Wednesday.
The record win over Waikato in their last outing was far removed from what was their heaviest loss to their southern neighbours who based their victory on fine defence and a sound scrum.
A sickening head clash with prop Ofa Tu’ungafasi saw wing George Moala stretchered off while promising blindside flanker Joe Edwards had to be assisted from the field with a leg injury while just into the final quarter No.8 Peter Saili was stretchered off as well.
With one game remaining, against Northland, Auckland face a worrying time before their semi-final place is secure, while Counties Manukau have kept their hopes alive ahead of Sunday’s game against Tasman.
But even before the injuries came into consideration, Auckland demonstrated an over-confidence when opting to push for seven points rather than taking threes when they were on offer. They looked far from the team that put 60 points on Waikato at their last outing.
The rot started when Auckland halfback Junior Poluleuligaga made a crucial mistake was made by in the 20th minute. At a five-metre scrum out from Auckland’s line, Counties Manukau, who were strong in the scrum all night, won the ball but Poluleuligaga slapped the ball down and after TMO investigation referee Kane McBride ruled it was a deliberate move and awarded a penalty try while also sin-binning the perpetrator.
It negated the try Auckland opened with when two decisions to take a lineout rather than penalty goal attempts resulted in Tu’ungafasi crashing over wide out.
Determined home defence saw off more of the Auckland efforts to take lineout drives rather than penalty goal attempts but a lack of finesse coupled with the efforts of the home side denied Auckland and it was Counties who prospered.
It was after a thrilling goal-line breakout by fullback Tim Nanai-Williams that the chance came. It took time but after Auckland attempted a copycat manoeuvre only to see Parkes lose possession a scrum was awarded to the home team.
Halfback Augustine Pulu ran off the base of the scrum and punished poor Auckland defence by slicing through and then firing a long pass which was gratefully accepted by wing Frank Halai for Counties Manukau to take a 15-5 lead to the half-time break.
Soon after Moala left flanker Joe Edwards, who had been in the thick of action taking the ball upfield, was helped from the field with a leg injury.
Auckland’s scrum defence was again exposed when Counties Manukau won another scrum in the 22m area and while the ball was moved right, Pulu turned it back across the base of the scrum for first five-eighths Ahsee Tuala was able to pick his way through to go over by the posts.
Then in the 56th minute Counties Manukau got their lineout drive going and with replacement five-eighths Mike Stanley flinging a long pass Halai was able to take to score his second as the home team got out to a 27-11 lead.
Halai was back in the action just after Saili’s departure. He hit replacement fullback Simon Hickey in a hard tackle in which the ball was turned over. The ball was moved blind after wing Sam Henwood’s kick ahead it was Pulu who pounced on the ball over the line to score.
A late consolation came for Auckland when replacement Jack Whetton jumped over a goal-line ruck to score.
But it was Counties Manukau who looked to have the last say when a superb tap on from Sonny Bill Williams created the chance for Muirhead who was denied a try on the touch judge’s ruling. However, from another fine scrum it was Sam Henwood who scored in injury time.
Counties Manukau 41 (Frank Halai 2, Ahsee Tuala, Augustine Pulu, Sam Henwood tries, Penalty try, Tuala con, pen; Tim Nanai-Williams con; Mike Stanley 2 con)
Auckland 18 (Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Jack Whetton tries; Gareth Anscombe con, 2 pen). HT: 15-5