Counties cling on to beat Manawatu

Counties-Manukau's Tim Nanai-Williams makes a break against Manawatu last night. Photo: Getty Images
Counties-Manukau's Tim Nanai-Williams makes a break against Manawatu last night. Photo: Getty Images
Counties Manukau look likely to avoid relegation from the Mitre 10 Cup Premiership following a 29-24 victory over Manawatu.

Their tense triumph - despite two yellow cards and a late red card to Augustine Pulu - has put them eight points clear of Waikato, who have two games remaining, and has also jumped them ahead of Auckland to sit in fifth on the ladder.

There was a substantive element of unpredictability in their win, in what was a messy free-running game which could have gone either way. The truth is that while neither side is particularly flash, both have their moments of tantalising running rugby, and that inconsistency was on display in Palmerston North.

It was perhaps encapsulated in the opening moments. Tim Nanai-Williams was ruled to have intentionally knocked down a Manawatu pass, seeing him sent to the sinbin. Manawatu cashed in, as Michael Alaalatoa drove over from resulting lineout drive.

When Nanai-Williams returned from his spell on the sidelines, Manawatu flanker Antonio Kiri Kiri decided to keep his seat warm; sent to the bin for coming in the side of the ruck. Uncannily enough, Counties crashed over through Ronald Raaymakers, and we were back to where we began.

It was a pattern which continued throughout the contest. Stephen Donald's try was cancelled out by Newton Turdeu, while Manawatu fullback Te Rangatira Waitokia had the full range of emotions - setting up a try, making a try-saving tackle, and then butchering a try with a knock on with the line begging.

As the score fluctuated back and forth, the game was decided by some Counties exuberance. The promising Orbyn Leger's midfield combination with Nigel Ah Wong proved pivotal when they both crossed, giving Counties a slender lead.

Manawatu attacked Counties relentlessly in the closing stages. Pulu's swinging arm saw him marched from the field, and the hosts thought they had their win when Jason Emery went under the posts.

However, it was brought back for obstruction, and Counties clung on.

Counties Manukau 29 (Ronald Raaymakers, Stephen Donald, Orbyn Leger, Nigel Ah Wong tries; Donald 3 con, pen)
Manawatu 24 (Michael Alaalatoa, Newton Tudreu, Ambrose Curtis tries; Otere Black 3 cons, pen)
HT: 22-17

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