Counties Manukau have secured the Ranfurly Shield for the summer thanks to an impressive 25-7 win over Southland on Friday.
The victory was down to a stoic display in defence combined with an unpredictable attack they are becoming known for. Defensively, they out-Stagge
d the Stags.
While their set piece structure was shaky at times and the penalty count within their own territory was an issue once more it was the passion and desire to support each other that saw them secure a third successful defence.
While their attack was sparkling in the opening half it was certainly down to a gritty defensive display that saw them outmuscle a Southland side tainted by errors.
In solidifying their spot in the Premiership semi-finals, Counties also illustrated they would not be taken lightly in the play-offs. Their intensity and skill set has soared like their rise through the Championship in 2012 and the Premiership in 2013 as they secured an emphatic 22-0 half-time lead.
Halfback Kane Hancy's desire to impress following halfback Augustine Pulu's injury was obvious, the nippy halfback impressing along with many of his teammates.
For others like Baden Kerr, the match was the perfect opportunity to fine tune their tactics ahead of a date with Wellington in the semi-finals.
Southland's attacking endeavour in the second half was rewarded with a try to Robbie Robinson 17 minutes after half-time. It was a rare highlight in a result that sees their semi-final hopes in doubt. They sit in fourth spot in the Championship on 20 points, just two ahead of Manawatu who have a game in hand.
Despite being on the end of a heavy penalty count and a few nervous moments early at set piece time it was the hosts who scored first through lock Ronald Raaymakers.
A superb bit of pressure from the returning Frank Halai saw Southland turn over the ball close to their own line. From there halfback Kane Hancy was able to find the lock who opened a 7-0 lead after eight minutes.
Counties extended their lead less than five minutes later when Ma'ama Vaipulu paved the way for Fritz Lee to score the side's second try.
Baden Kerr extended the lead to 15-0 before he was instrumental in his side's third try of the first half. His big tackle on Robbie Robinson led to a turnover a phase later to allow Counties' unpredictable attack to wreak havoc.
Rey Lee-Lo stormed through the Southland backline before turning provider for Ahsee Tuala to extend the lead to 20 points.
Kerr nailed the ensuing conversion to give the Ranfurly Shield holders an impressive 22-0 half-time lead.
Southland took 57 minutes to register their first points of the match after Robinson mauled his way over the line. Eade converted the try and reduced the deficit to 15 points.
The Southland try seemed to throw a few nerves into the Counties side and when Bundee Aki dropped the ball on the half-way line Southland had possession with just under a quarter of the match to play.
Instead it was Kerr who kicked his second penalty of the evening to confirm they will be the holders of the Ranfurly Shield in the summer of 2013-14.
Counties Manukau 25 (Ronald Raaymakers, Fritz Lee, Ahsee Tuala tries; Baden Kerr 2 con, 2 pen) Southland 7 (Robbie Robinson try; Scott Eade con). HT: 22-0.