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Counties crowned Championship kings

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Sportal.co.nz     27 Oct 2012     Getty Images

The sixth-best attacking team overall in the ITM Cup rediscovered the energy that abandoned them late in the round robin scoring five tries to a solitary one by Razorbacks flanker Adam Thompson.

The performance was powered by blistering winger Sherwin Stowers and fullback Tim Nanai-Williams, the former was in fine form with a number of line breaks - the first resulted in the opening try by August Pulu - while the latter put the result beyond doubt with his sixth try of the season in the dying minutes.

Chiefs coach Dave Rennie will have a pleasing headache when he ponders his halfback options next year after Pulu - a member of the wider squad - impressed with two-tries and a man-of-the-match performance.

His second in the final quarter effectively broke the camel's back and Otago's hopes of another last gasp comeback.

Seperated by just seven points at the break, Otago second five-eighth Glenn Dickson reduced the deficit to four in the second stanza but that was as close as they would get to Championship glory as Counties piled on three unanswered tries in the closing stages.

Counties coach Tana Umaga stuck with 14 of his guns that fired in the semi, with Mark Selwyn the only new face at blindside flanker while Ma'ama Vaipulu slipped onto the bench.

While Otago boasted reinforcements in the form of All Blacks centre Tamati Ellison and fullback Ben Smith.

The Razorbacks needed to contain Counties' leading try-scorer Stowers and when they failed to halt his first attempt with ball in hand, the former NZ Sevens star created a path for the unmarked Pulu inside him to score an converted try in the third minute.

An uncharacteristic error by Nanai-Williams set the visitors up with a penalty shot at goal, which Dickson converted in the 10th minute before Bayden Kerr hit back with one of his own shortly before the turn of the first quarter.

After slotting his first two kicks of the evening, the Steelers five-eighth then had his defence put to the test when he found himself one-on-one on the goal-line with Thompson. The All Blacks flanker had no trouble in muscling over to lock the scores up at 10-all.

Otago were denied a certain try by the poor decision making of winger Buxton Popoali'i, who opted not to feed an open Ben Smtih deep in opposition territory. However, the pack fought for the ensuing tighthead which led to Dickson's next penalty and a three-point lead.

They could only briefly enjoy their slim cushion before Mark Selwyn spilt the blue-and-gold wall to score under the posts and put the home side back in front 17-13 in the second quarter.

Five minutes before the break Kerr increased the buffer to seven with his second penalty shot.

Introduced by Otago coach Tony Brown after the break, prop Jacob Ellison and flanker TJ Ioane added punch to the attack with barnstorming running. Dickson capitalised on the momentum with his third penalty in the 52nd minute.

As the final quarter loomed, Stowers had a hand in yet another stunning try when his deft pass led to three more that allowed Pulu to extend the lead to 27-16 with his second score of the night.

With a healthy lead and one hand on the Championship trophy, the Steelers blew the visitors away with a late surge of two further tries to Nanai-Williams and David Bason.

The 25-point deficit sealed the fate of the outmatched Otago side as Counties claimed its first NPC title in 32 years.

Counties Manukau 41 (August Pulu 2, Mark Selwyn, Tim Nanai-Williams, David Bason tries; Bayden Kerr 4 con, 2 pen, Stowers con)
Otago 16 (Adam Thompson try; Glenn Dickson con, 3 pen)
HT: 20-13