Counties' turn to bask in shield glory

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Saturday, September 7, 2013    Getty Images

Shield fever is set to hit Pukekohe after Counties Manukau snatched provincial rugby's most prized trophy, defeating holders Hawke's Bay 27-24 in Napier on Saturday.

Future generations will tell tales of the day Sikeli Nabou scored in the last five minutes and Baden Kerr slotted four crucial penalties to help the Steelers win the coveted Log o'Wood for the first time since the union was formed in 1955.

So many new chapters of history have been written over the past two weeks, with thousands lining the streets of Dundein and Napier to celebrate their shield heroes.

Unfortunately for Hawke's Bay, their reign of five days is the shortest ever recorded.

After 24 unsuccessful challenges, including two draws, Counties will do their best to hang onto their prize when it goes on the line against Taranaki next Sunday.

The confidence they will go into that match with is much-needed after a slow start of just one win from their opening four games.

If anything, the numerous penalties Counties gave away sums up where they need to improve if they hope to go deep in to the premiership finals.

Ihaia West's personal haul of 15 points was built on the freebees the visitors gave away.

Fullback Gillies Kaka and No 8 Mark Atkins dotted down for the home side, while a late try to Counties replacement Sean Reidy doubled Sherwin Stowers' effort in the opening quarter.

Trailing by just two points, and on the verge of making history, towering lock Nabou broke Magpie hearts with his try four minutes from time.

It was an emotional day for Counties hooker Hika Elliot.

Dumped by the Magpies in April after eight years of service, he perhaps let the occasion get the better of him after his silly penalty handed the home side their first attacking opportunity.

Chiefs halfback Augustine Pulu has been a standout for Counties despite their struggles this year and his 20-metre break was the catalyst for the opening try to Stowers, who used pure speed to beat one final defender to score in the left corner.

Seconds later, the Steelers fullback, in his fourth shield challenge, was kicking himself after he was caught out of position. That made it hard for the scrambling defence to stop his opposite Kaka from scoring the reply.

The try-scoring action stopped for a period as a kicking duel took place between Kerr and West, with Pulu responsible for nine points in the home side's favour.

Hawke's Bay ended the half ahead 16-14, and assistant coach Danny Lee admitted that the penalties they conceded had kept the challengers in the game.

Ball retention was the aim of the second spell, however, when lock Mark Abott dropped the restart inside his half it was clear that errors were going to determine the overall outcome.

That rang true after the break when another faux pa, albeit and uncharacteristic one, by Kerr resulted in a try to No 8 Atkins after his clearing kick went out on the full.

The trend continued as Ash Dixon overthrew a lineout inside his 22. In a shock decision, Counties captain Fritz Lee turned down a penalty in front of the posts and opted for a scrum.

However, Hawke's Bay survived thanks to a wayward pass from Pulu that was hacked away downfield.

Shoulders dropped for the challengers when West slotted his next penalty to extend their lead to seven points.

What ensued was truly spectacular.

Reidy crossed for an unconverted try that took the visitors to within two points of victory.

Just three minutes later Nabou carried two defenders over the line to steal the lead and write the next chapter in Ranfurly Shield history.

Hawke's Bay: 24 (Gillies Kaka, Mark Atkins tries; Ihaia West con, 4 pens)

Counties Manukau: 27 (Sherwin Stowers, Sean Reidy, Sikeli Nabou tries; Baden Kerr 4 pens)

HT: 16-14 Hawke's Bay