Counties stunned by Tasman
Sportal.co.nz 30 Aug 2013 Getty Images
In all fairness, the blow of first-five Baden Kerr (hematoma) prior to kickoff meant it was always going to be a tough night.
But the Makos should never have been allowed to dominate the way they did.
Indeed they defended well and were fearless at the breakdown but creativity on attack was lacking.
Instead the southern men were made to look good, and stayed in the hunt, by converting the Steelers' mistakes and ill-discipline into points.
Debutant Marty Banks was the main beneficiary, slotting eight from 10 with the boot for a haul of 20 points.
Along with his four penalty goals, he converted tries to Liam Squire, Shane Christie, Kieron Fonotia and Tom Marshall - all from close range after Counties either coughed up or gave away possession.
It was a repeat of last year's upset that allowed Tasman to sneak into the semi-finals and was equally disappointing for Counties coach Tana Umaga, who struggled to find a reason for why his men were so flat.
"We've got to find the answers quickly, otherwise we're going to get a lot more of the same results," he said.
"It's disappointing because we're playing in front of our families and people who really want to get behind us.
"We should have put in a better showing than that."
Frank Halai may be an All Black in waiting but his knock-on when fielding a routine kick set the tone.
The rest was, well, ugly.
Augustine Pulu did his best to fire the home side from halfback and was always in the thick of things, including an all-in maul that saw him cross the whitewash for the opening try.
He was followed across the line his Waikato Stadium team-mate Bundee Aki.
But that was as good as it got for the home side, who let a 14-6 lead slip through their fingers.
Umaga rued the absence of reserve first-five Ki Anufe at trainining during the week, which forced wing Ahsee Tuala into the playmaking role at the eleventh hour.
The positive is that Kerr will likely be available to play Auckland next Wednesday, but much more improvement is needed if they hope to secure victory at Eden Park.
"We've got to look at everything really, and probably the positive thing is that we don't have much time," Umaga added.
"I don't know if there is a quick fix but we'll definitely be looking for it."
Counties Manukau: 20 (Augustine Pulu, Bundee Aki tries; Ahsee Tuala 2 cons, pen; Ki Anufe pen)
Tasman: 40 (Liam Squire, Shane Christie, Kieron Fonotia, Tom Marshall tries; Marty Banks 4 con, 4 pen)
HT: 17-16 Counties Manukau
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