Makos clinch semis spot with win over Counties
Malneek marks 100th match with vital victoryWAYNE MARTIN
The Tasman Makos have scored their gutsiest win of this year's ITM Cup rugby campaign with a semifinal clinching 28-19 win over Counties Manukau in Pukekohe last night.
The Steelers were meant to win on their home ground at ECOLight Stadium and atone for last Saturday's last minute 32-28 loss to Waikato.
But Tasman displayed even more resolve to grind out their fifth win of the season and keep alive their hopes of a home semifinal.
Tasman's win also provided a fitting tribute for winger Robbie Malneek who was playing his 100th match for the region, having also previously represented Nelson Bays.
And it was Malneek who opened the try scoring after seven minutes with a superb individual effort, responding to an earlier penalty success by Counties Manukau's Tim Nanai-Williams when a turnover near Tasman's quarter line saw Malneek chip the ball into space and regather for a clear run to the line and a 7-3 Tasman lead.
Tasman went further ahead seven minutes later when a clever switch play from an attacking lineout saw fullback Tom Marshall chip ahead for winger Peter Betham to score in the corner.
A Marshall penalty, to two more by Nanai-Williams, saw Tasman head to the break 15-9 ahead.
The loss of No 10 and first choice goalkicker Baden Kerr with a head injury after just seven minutes meant an early reshuffle in Counties Manukau's backline.
But it was Tasman's enterprise, an effective scrum and more powerful ball carries by No 8 Jordan Taufua that helped the visitors to their slender halftime advantage.
Nanai-Williams narrowed the margin to 15-12 directly after the restart as early Tasman indiscipline provided Counties Manukau with some much-needed momentum.
A second Marshall penalty restored Tasman's six-point lead at 18-12, before some excellent blindside interplay between Marshall and Betham again saw Bethan across in the corner for his second try.
And when Marshall added his third penalty three minutes later, Tasman were suddenly ahead 28-12.
Counties Manukau got themselves back in the hunt at 28-19 when lock Jimmy Tupou crossed for his team's first try with 15 minutes remaining.
But Tasman held on for the win, despite Counties Manukau's growing desperation, the drama enhanced by referee Garratt Williamson's departure with 14 minutes remaining with a leg injury, to be replaced by James Imlach.
Flanker Shane Christie was a big contributor to Tasman's win with his dynamic work at the breakdowns, as Counties Manukau also struggled to beat an accurate Tasman defence.
Tasman 28 (Peter Betham 2, Robbie Malneek tries, Tom Marshall 3 pens, 2 cons) Counties Manukau 19 (Jimmy Tupou try, Tim Nanai-Williams 4 pens, con) Ht 15-9.
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