Shield stays with Counties Manukau
Sunday, September 15, 2013 Sportal.co.nz Getty Images
After witnessing the passion with which the minnows defended their prized possession, it almost seems unfair that it has to go on the line again in five days time.
In an ironic twist, Waikato will get a chance to avenge its dejecting loss to Otago, which began the shield's journey around the country on August 23.
Having scored an emphatic 42-24 win over Auckland on Saturday, there's every chance that will happen.
But Counties will relish this win; as will the 12,000 strong crowd that turned out for the first shield match played in Pukekohe since the union's formation in 1958.
The shield not only brought life to the Steelers, who climbed to fourth on the premiership ladder, it also created an excitement rarely seen in these parts of the country.
"We knew Taranaki were a side capable of coming back at us; we really wanted to string it out and finish them off as much as possible," said Steelers coach Tana Umaga.
"But to be honest, our major focus was to win back at home ... we've taken some hidings here.
"We wanted to get some respect back from our home crowd that came out to support us."
After last week's thrilling win over the Hawke's Bay, plenty was made of the way Hika Elliot and Jimmy Tupou steeled the tight five and were menacing without ball in hand.
The pair wasted no time in picking up where they left off and quickly put the Steelers on the front foot.
Elliot opened the scoring when he emerged from a pile of bodies to perform a creative celebratory hand gesture after just four minutes.
Tupou crossed the whitewash after openside Ma'ama Vaipulu made the initial break inside Taranaki's 22.
Considering they were within two converted tries of overturning the 12-0 deficit, Taranaki captain Kane Barrett may have to answer a few questions about his decision to turn down a kickable penalty that would have provided some much-needed confidence.
Instead the visitors remained scoreless as Counties landed another blow through wing Frank Halai.
Shortly after, Baden Kerr landed his second penalty of the afternoon to push the shield 25 points out of Taranaki's reach.
Something had to change for the visitors and Colin Cooper went about making that happen by introducing Frazier Climo, Jamison Gibson-Park and James Broadhurst after what would have been an intense half-time talk.
It didn't work. Halai grabbed a double two minutes after the restart that gave the home side what looked to be an unassailable lead of 32 points.
Loosehead prop Carl Carmichael gave the few yellow-and-black jumpers in the crowd something to cheer about when he was awarded a try after what appeared to be a double movement.
But that was as good as it would get for the woeful challengers as Kane Hancy and Rey Lee-Lo rubbed salt into the wound when they dotted down in the dying stages.
Counties Manukau 44 (Frank Halai 2, Hika Elliot, Jimmy Tupou, Kane Hancy, Rey Lee-Lo tries; Baden Kerr 3 con, 2 pen; Ahsee Tuala con) Taranaki 7 (Carl Carmichael tries; Beaudein Waaka con) HT: 25-0
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