Counties win one-point thriller

Date published: August 16 2015

Counties Manukau snuck past visiting Manuwatu with a 36-35 win in the ITM Cup in Pukekohe on Sunday.

Toni Pulu scored a hat-trick for the home side, including two tries in the opening five minutes, as the Steelers eventually ended up clinging on following a fightback from Manuwatu.

Pulu's two early tries were converted by fly-half Piers Francis to give Counties a 14-0 lead before flanker Antonio Kirikiri responded for the visitors.

Sam Henwood's try for Counties restored order before the Manuwatu captain Calum Gibbins crossed just before half-time, with rising star Otere Black's conversion making it 19-14 at the interval.

A converted try from full-back Jared Page and a penalty from Francis kept Counties in control before Pulu completed his hat-trick in the 66th minute to make it 36-14 going into the final ten minutes.

However the contest was far from settled as Manuwatu began an impressive fightback.

Tries from Velantino Mapapalangi, a second from Kirikiri and finally Toby Morland – all converted by Black – left Manuwatu down by just a point with time up on the clock.

Matching Counties' tally of five tries in the process did secure Manuwatu two bonus points in defeat, but the victory goes to the Steelers.

The scorers:

For Counties:

Tries: Pulu 3, Henwood, Page

Cons: Francis 4

Pens: Francis

For Manuwatu:

Tries: Kirikiri 2, Gibbins, Mapapalangi, Morland

Cons: Black 5

Counties: 15 Jared Page, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Sam Vaka, 12 Cardiff Vaega, 11 Sione Fifita, 10 Piers Francis, 9 Richard Judd, 8 Maama Vaipulu, 7 Sam Henwood, 6 Jimmy Tupou (c), 5 Viliame Rarasea, 4 Mike Lawrenson, 3 Jarrod Firth, 2 Gafatasi Su'a, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Michael Lea, 17 Sean Bagshaw, 18 John Tu'ungafasi, 19 Jordan Taufua, 20 Onosai Auva'a, 21 Kane Hancy, 22 Nathan de Thierry, 23 Johnny Fa'auli.

Manawatu: 15 Semisi Masirewa, 14 Newton Tudreu, 13 Jason Emery, 12 Hamish Northcott, 11 Nathan Tudreu, 10 Otere Black, 9 Jamie Booth, 8 Mark Atkins, 7 Callum Gibbins (c), 6 Antonio Kiri Kiri, 5 Tom Parsons, 4 Fraser Stone, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Rob Foreman, 1 Adrian Barone.
Replacements: 16 Nick Grogan, 17 Fraser Armstrong, 18 Tim Cadwallader, 19 Velantino Mapapalangi, 20 Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, 21 Toby Morland, 22 Jaxon Tagavaitau, 23 Hamiora Thomas.

Venue: ECOLight Stadium, Pukekohe
Referee: Brendon Pickerill