Counties see off challenge of Mid Canterbury
SHAUN EADE AT ECOLIGHT STADIUM
Counties Manukau have retained the Ranfurly Shield with a 46-10 victory over Mid Canterbury but did not have things all their own way tonight.
An impressive end to the first half left the challengers just 12 points behind at the break but the Steelers ran rampant in the second stanza, scoring 24 unanswered points.
The high winds which battered Pukekohe earlier in the day subsided but there was still a steady stream of rain to make handling difficult.
The Steelers showed their intentions to send the ball wide early, which stretched Mid Canterbury's defence leaving a gaping hole for flanker Dan Hyatt to burst through for the opening try within the first minute.
Centre Sam Vaka made a powerful run moments later and Hyatt, who was starting his first game for the Steelers, crashed over the tryline for his second five-pointer.
The Hammers struggled to contain the Steelers out-wide with winger Andy Muirhead enjoying plenty of space on the right wing. Halfback Kane Hancy exposed the defence following a break by the young winger, setting up Jared Page for his fourth Counties Manukau try in two matches.
After the early defensive lapses, the visitors tightened their defensive line.
Former Blues flanker Onasai'i Auva'a was denied his first Steelers try when referee Shane McDermott ruled he made a double movement and the side settled for a Page penalty.
Mid Canterbury thrust back on attack through some strong runs from Sam Houston, Peni Manumanuniliwa and Jon Dampney but when prop Tokulua Tolu got a case of white-line-fever with three unmarked men outside him, it looked like they had missed their chance to score. But the team regrouped and moments later, the biggest cheer of the game came when Hammers hooker Jon Sharpe crashed over for his side's first try.
Buoyed by the score, Mid Canterbury cashed in again through a Murray Williams-penalty just before halftime.
The Steelers forwards demolished Mid Canterbury's scrum after the break allowing Maama Vaipulu to score a push-over try.
The home side's set piece continued to dominate and prop John Tu'ugafasi capitalised from the consistent good field position with his first Steelers try.
With the game in the bag, Toni Pulu and Muirhead added their names to the already bulging scorers' list to complete Counties Manukau's fifth successful defence of the shield.
The Steelers' next Ranfurlu Shield defence is against Otago on August 23.
Counties Manukau 46 (Dan Hyatt 2, Jared Page, Maama Vaipulu, John Tu'ugafasi, Toni Pulu, Andy Muirhead tries; Jared Page 4 con; Page pen) Mid Canterbury 10 ( Jon Sharpe tries; Murray Williams con; Williams pen). HT: 22-10