Kerr’s kick snatches Coun­ties win

Franklin County News - - SPORT - DAVID LONG

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.

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