Kerr’s kick snatches Counties win
It was an emotional return to EcoLight Stadium for Stephen Donald on Saturday night as Baden Kerr’s penalty snatched a 16-14 win for Counties Manukau.
Donald had left the game with a calf strain by the time Kerr kicked the winning points and watched as his Steelers teammates held off a relentless final attack from Auckland.
Even so, this was a special night for the All Blacks hero from the 2011 World Cup.
‘‘It was probably a horrible game of rugby, but at the end of it four points is four points,’’ Donald said. ‘‘That’s a [Auckland] team that’s going to beat a lot of teams and that was good courage by our team.
‘‘We didn’t put much out on the park, but we’ll take that.’’
One of the features of the stadium at Pukekohe is the long tunnel the players walk through from the changing sheds under the grand stand. There’s nothing else like it in New Zealand and Donald said that was something special for him.
‘‘It’s great walking down it,’’ he said. ’’But when you’re walking up it when your legs are gone takes it out of you.
‘‘When you’re a kid growing up in this area, the tunnel is part of the myth of this place. It’s a dream to walk down it and to do it again with a Counties jersey on is pretty special.’’
Counties had the brightest start, putting pressure on the Auckland defence and when they were given a penalty in the 12th minute the three easy points were turned down. That bravery was rewarded when Steelers openside flanker Fotu Lokotui drove over for the try.
A few minutes later Counties’ Sam Henwood was shown a yellow card for a tackle on Auckland fullback Jordan Trainor, flipping him over as he made a strong tackle.
Auckland quickly made the most of their numerical advantage, with halfback Jono Hickey scoring under the posts. Fekitoa put Auckland in front for the first time in the 45th minute, grounding a Hickey grubber in goal.
Another penalty from Kerr in the 62nd minute reduced the Steelers’ deficit to one point and the game came to a nail-biting finale with Kerr having a penalty attempt a metre inside the Auckland line, which he just managed to get over.
Auckland had one last attack and gradually worked their way down towards the Counties line. Isi Tu’ungafasi drove through a mass of bodies to get over the line, but after a long review there was inconclusive evidence that the ball had been grounded.
Auckland coach Nick White was disappointed that his team got themselves into a position where Counties even had a sniff of getting back into the game. ‘‘We probably had our chances earlier in the game, but we gave away too many penalties in the first half. There were five penalties that we were probably in control of and it put us on the back foot.
‘‘When we did have the ball, we scored a try in the first half and ended up building phases, but we dropped the ball and lost control of it in general play. Our kicking wasn’t good enough tonight unfortunately and we kicked down the throat of a lot of their players and didn’t build any pressure on them.
‘‘We needed for it to bounce or go out, so we could defend from a set piece. So it was really disappointing, Counties are always hard here, but we weren’t on the mark tonight.’’
Nigel Ah Wong of Counties Manukau makes a break.
Caleb Clarke is swamped by Counties players on defense.
Matiaha Martin wins lineout ball during the round one Mitre 10 Cup match between Counties Manukau and Auckland at ECOLight Stadium.