Counties Manukau lost to a last minute penalty against Wellington at the weekend and on Wednesday night they failed when they had the boot on the other foot, losing 29-30 to Taranaki in Pukekohe.
Replacement goal-kicker Joe Reynolds wasn’t able to convert his injury-time chance and instead Taranaki could reflect on the goal-kicking assurance of first five-eighths Marty McKenzie, the leading points scorer in Mitre 10 Cup rugby as he added 15 points to his total on the night.
The win was a confidence boost for Taranaki who have a Ranfurly Shield challenge against Waikato on Sunday.
However, it was disappointing outcome for Counties Manukau who had played so well in the second half through their forwards and the electric qualities offered by the returning wing Tony Pulu.
First five-eighths Piers Francis had a horror start but then quickly redeemed himself with a freakish piece of play. In the second minute he dropped a straight forward pass and lock Leighton Price was onto it in a flash, and passed the ball behind fullback Luteru Laulala to centre Sean Wainui who went in under the posts.
Then, in the sixth minute a strong run from the base of a ruck by halfback Augustine Pulu looked likely to end under the posts due to a lack of support. But in a last effort he flicked the ball out and Francis speculated the ball out to Laulala and he passed to allow wing Sione Molia to run in at the corner. To cap his redemption Francis put the conversion over from the sideline.
However, a head injury cut short Francis’ night as he was unable to retake the field.
Rain midway through the half made handling difficult for a period but Taranaki continued to build with hooker Rhys Marshall excelling in build-up play. McKenzie added two penalty goals, but it was his run from second receiver, on the back of a Marshall pass, that saw him ghost into space to feed fullback Stephen Perofeta in for a try which took Taranaki out to a 20-7 half-time lead.
However, Counties Manukau stormed back into the game with two tries in three minutes just after the break.
Firstly, it was the decision, to eschew a penalty goal chance to opt for a lineout in the corner, that saw the rolling maul get moving with prop Kalolo Tuiloma appearing off the back to charge at the line. At the breakdown Pulu flicked the ball to flanker Jordan Taufua to score.
Then from deep in their own 22m area, Counties Manukau ran the ball through Taufua, who went through two players to send the ball on to centre Sam Vaka. He got the ball to left wing Sherwin Stowers and the only question was how quickly would he get to the goal-line at the other end. He was never in danger of being headed.
Into the final quarter the Counties Manukau forwards lifted their effort to stunning effect. A try to Laulala was over-ruled because he appeared to ground the ball short of the line and the TMO was unable to prove otherwise.
But when they stormed back downfield again in the 67th minute, skipper Jimmy Tupou drove almost to the line and when tackled he set the ball for replacement halfback Richard Judd to dive over.
Taranaki responded in their best manner of the half to negate the home advantage courtesy of a try to skipper and flanker Mitchell Crosswell after a lovely inside pass from Perofeta. That set up the thrilling finale.
COUNTIES MANUKAU – 29
Tries: Sione Molia (8),Jordan Taufua (42),Sherwin Stowers (45),Richard Judd (67)
Penalties: Joe Reynolds (73)
Cons: Piers Francis (10),Joe Reynolds (43,68)
TARANAKI – 30
Tries: Sean Wainui (2),Stephen Perofeta (38),Mitchell Crosswell (70)
Penalties: Marty McKenzie (22,30,75)
Cons: Marty McKenzie (3,39,70)