Counties Manukau makes flying start
Saturday, July 31, 2010 Sportal.co.nz Getty Images
Otago was strong in the set pieces, and there were promising signs from the new midfield combination of Josh Tatupu and Ben Smith, but little else went right.
Counties hoed in vigorously and the backs, skillfully marshalled by Umaga, outplayed Otago. The back three of Tim Nanai-Williams, Sherwin Stowers and Ahsee Tuala were particularly impressive.
Counties had finished bottom last year and Otago 10th and both teams had much to prove.
Otago sides had not performed impressively and the victims include the teams which won the national championships in 1991 and 1998.
It was 3-all after an even first quarter in which neither side gained the ascendancy. Glenn Dickson kicked a penalty for Otago after 10 minutes and Deans Cummins replied for Counties six minutes later.
Counties broke the deadlock after 25minutes when Siale Piutau and Sherwin Stowers combined to put wing Tuala over for a well-executed try in the right corner. Cummins converted well and the Steelers were ahead 10-3.
Counties prop Jono Owen was sin-binned for a professional foul after 28 minutes but, with only 14 men on the field, the Steelers struck again four minutes. Umaga chipped in behind the defence, Counties regained possession and the ball was moved quickly right and the centre, Piutau, scored wide out to extend the lead to 15-3.
The Counties backs were running hot and elusive fullback Tim Nanai-Williams ran 30 metres for a spectacular try after 35 minutes after Tuala had sped down the right wing.
Remarkably, Counties had scored 12 points to nil while Owen had been in the bin.
Owen retuned but hooker Grant Henson was sin-binned almost immediately and Dickson kicked his second penalty to reduce Otago's deficit to 6-22 at halftime.
Counties had used the ball well with its exciting backs and the only debit marks were against the poor discipline of the forwards.
Otago was unable to capitalise on Henson's absence, lock Hayden Triggs losing the ball over the line after a lengthy buildup.
Otago replaced No 8 Paul Grant and hooker Peter Mirrielees with Ebert Joubert and Liam Coltman but the immediate effect was the opposite of what it would have wished.
The Otago forwards hammered away the Counties line but, when it was given to the backs, Dickson's pass was intercepted by Tuala who raced 90 metres to the posts. Cummins converted and Counties was sitting pretty at 29-6.
Umaga was subbed midway through the spell and left to a sustained ovation from a sizeable and very happy crowd.
Otago had spent large chunks of the half deep in Counties' territory but it had been too predictable and had been unable to penetrate.
Otago scored its first win three minutes from the end, fullback Chris Small scoring from a centre-kick from Smith, but it was too little and much too late.
Counties Manukau 29 (Ahsee Tuala 2, Siale Piutau, Tim Nanai-Williams; Dean Cummins 3 con, pen) Otago 13 (Chris Small try; Glenn Dickson con, 2 pen). HT: 22-6
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