At Navigation Homes Stadium, Pukekohe: Counties Manukau 31 (James Thompson, Ioane Moananu, Adam Brash, Blake Makiri tries; AJ Alatimu con, pen, Tevita Ofa 3 con) Canterbury 29 (Ben Funnell, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Tom Christie, Cullen Grace tries; Fergus Burke 3 con, pen). HT: 17-17
Tevita Ofa might never have to buy a drink again in his neck of the woods.
The Counties Manukau centre slotted a last-ditch conversion from the sideline to lift his side to a remarkable 31-29 win against Canterbury in Pukekohe on Wednesday night.
Having taken over the kicking duties after AJ Alatimu left the park injured in the first half, Ofa’s clutch kick ensured there was no need for golden point extra time, and marked Counties’ first win against Canterbury since 2016.
Moments earlier, replacement Blake Makiri scooted down the sideline and scored the crunch try shortly after Hoskins Sotutu had come up short from a dominant scrum.
Canterbury, who were also pipped at the death by Auckland at the weekend, were defending without Tom Christie, who was yellow carded a moment before Counties landed the dagger blow.
It had looked like being the same old story for Counties Manukau, whose second half woes have haunted them this season.
However, Christie, shortly after coming off the bench to make his 50th appearance for Canterbury, and No 8 Cullen Grace scored tries within three minutes of each other to power the visitors to a 29-17 lead after 54 minutes.
Counties hit back through a try to replacement Adam Brash to drag themselves to within striking distance, and launched a series of late raids in a bid to upset the visitors.
Canterbury’s defence stiffened, highlighted by Mitchell Drummond earning a breakdown penalty 5m from his own line, and it looked like they would get their storm week back on track and power into second on the ladder.
Not so fast. Counties, who got impressive performances from players a host of players, including prop Ezekiel Lindenmuth and lock Jimmy Tupou, came roaring back.
Few would argue they didn’t deserve it. Not when they’d rocked Canterbury’s scrum a few times, and also gave their lineout all sorts of problems.
It wasn’t until Canterbury replaced hooker Ben Funnell with George Bell early in the second half that the red and blacks finally started winning some ball.
Usually a rock of their game, it was their faltering set piece that opened the door for Counties to score their first two tries, one of them a beaut by hooker Ioane Moananu, who featured for the Crusaders during Super Rugby this year.
Counties needed that to keep their season alive, and will head to Blenheim to face Tasman on Sunday full of beans.
As for Canterbury, who have lost three of their last four games, they bagged another two bonus points and are third on the ladder with a 4-3 record.
Addressing their error count, and their dismal lineout and faltering scrum, ahead of Sunday’s home game against Southland is a must.