Turbos Take it Down to the Wire
A late comeback from the Manawatu Turbos wasn't enough to earn them victory against Counties Manukau on Sunday, going down 36-35 in Pukekohe.
The Turbos took some time to get going, but eventually found their rhythm. The forwards took it upon themselves to get the green machine on the front foot, and did so expertly. After struggling at the set piece in their final pre-season match against Bay of Plenty, there was a much improved effort in the ITM Cup season opener, with the Turbos' first two tries a by-product of line-outs.
However, come the second half, the Turbos lost any momentum they had built before the break. Their work at the breakdown was messy, though that was partly because of the pressure applied by Counties. Jamie Booth had a tough time producing clean ball, and it seemed the Turbos were out of luck come the bounce of the ball and blow of the referee's whistle. They stormed home in the final five minutes, but couldn't claw back an early deficit.
Toni Pulu opened proceedings with a try after just two minutes of play, despite some bone crunching defence early on from the Turbos. The hosts quickly doubled their lead with some forward dominance, impressing at both the scrum and line-out. It was from a line-out that they scored their second try, Pulu dotting down untouched.
The Turbos were up for a fast-paced game though, and when they weren't tossing the ball around looking for space, they were putting some of the Steelers on their backs with some solid hits. That brutal defence helped them earn their first real attacking opportunity with a 5m line-out, and they showed they were just as adept at the set piece with Antonio Kiri Kiri driving over.
The Turbos also had an accurate tactical kicking game, allowing them to exit their own 22m smartly. While Counties dominated the early tempo, the Turbos soon won enough possession to dictate. Their running and passing game was pinpoint, and they quickly made it clear to the Steelers that they deserved to be in the Premiership competition, the likes of Jason Emery and Hamish Northcott impressing.
A try for Sam Henwood put the Steelers further in front, and while both sides had penalty attempts over the final ten minutes, neither could find their target. The Turbos' exciting early attack fell away as Counties manned up in defence, but the visitors could be pleased they at least forced plenty of mistakes from the hosts.
Those mistakes saw the Turbos take control of the game just before halftime, and with another line-out close to the Steelers' line, the visitors closed the gap. Captain Callum Gibbins, in his 50th ITM Cup match, crashed over leaving the Turbos trailing 19-14 at the break.
The Turbos had an injury scare at the start of the second half when Newton Tudreu went down, and the right winger was soon subbed. However, the Turbos had other concerns, with the Steelers camped in the visitors' 22m and throwing everything at the try line. Led by Gibbins, the Turbos defended stoutly, but eventually conceded a try to Jared Page.
With the bonus point secure, Counties played with a lot more freedom, and put the Turbos under even more pressure. They were happy to take the points when they were on offer, and after 55 minutes they extended their advantage to 29-14.
From there both sides found the going tough, with the reserves making their way on and disrupting play. Counties eventually got some reward from their bench players, who paved the way for Pulu to collect his hat-trick in the 68th minute.
Despite the Turbos' best efforts, they struggled to find and exploit holes in Counties' defence. Their passing was rushed an inaccurate as the clock ticked down, though they rediscovered some magic and flair in the final five minutes. Two more tries to Valentino Mapapalangi and Kirikiri earned the Turbos one bonus point, and with time up Toby Morland secured a second bonus point. However, it was too little, too late.
The Turbos return home for their first game at The Boneyard next weekend, when they host Waikato on Saturday; kick off 2.35pm!