Counties-Manukau edge Manawatu in thriller
Counties-Manukau might have won their fifth rugby game in six this season but they had to battle to overcome Manawatu 31-28 at Palmerston North.
In the end they did it by even claiming a bonus point for scoring four tries, all in the second half.
However, this was a thriller until the final seconds with Manawatu scoring through Lewis Marshall one minute from time to at least salvage a bonus point.
No one had given Manawatu a chance in Thursday night's game, not with Counties-Manukau being the runaway leaders in the Championship and the Turbos having won just two games, both away from home.
But in the second spell Counties-Manukau wore down the home side, got their wide game going and then hit the inside channels. Manawatu began making errors which gifted the ball back to DJ Forbes' team.
Second-five Bundee Aki helped himself to two easy tries, the first 10 minutes into the second spell and the last when a ball flew out of the back of the Manawatu scrum.
However, it took Counties-Manukau 66 minutes to snatch the lead when first-five Baden Kerr ghosted over.
It was a brave and impudent match from an under-strength Manawatu who next face Taranaki in a Ranfurly Shield challenge on September 29.
The Turbos knocked Counties-Manukau off their stride in the first half with their line speed and desperate tackling and probably should have led by more than 16-3.
Invariably they turned the ball over when they had the chance to shut Counties-Manukau deep in their own territory and were having difficulty holding their own in the scrums.
The only try of the half came to 19-year-old wing Willie Paia'aua only six minutes into his debut for Manawatu.
Quick hands through the Manawatu backs gave them a ton of room and Paia'aua sped over to stun Counties-Manukau.
A sideline conversion from Craig Clare added the icing and his 100 per cent shooting with the boot reaffirmed Manawatu's brave first-half display.
Counties-Manukau 31 (Bundee Aki 2, Sherwin Stowers, Baden Kerr tries; Kerr pen, 4 con)
Manawatu 28 (Willie Paia'aua, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Lewis Marshall, tries; Craig Clare 3 pen, con; Jason Emery con)