Otago - NPC News

Otago - NPC Champions  
25 October 1998, a day to remember

Otago sport may never know another day, another occasion like this after its rugby team became then undisputed champion with a resounding 49-20 win over Waikato at Carisbrook yesterday.

Blue and gold weather, which produced temperatures in the mid-20s, blue and gold spectators - who produced an almost capacity crowd of more than 40,000 - provided the perfect backdrop for a commanding performance which yielded Otago its first national title since 1991.

Never has an Otago side faced such pressure to perform from its own public; never has it delivered so emphatically. And, after the players dragged themselves around Carisbrook for the obligatory lap of honour after their seven-tries-to-two triumph, there was a special brew of Speight’s awaiting them in the dressing-room to celebrate the occasion.

Exactly two months before Christmas and in the province’s 150th anniversary year, Otago’s display yesterday had red-eyed old-timers comparing the side with the great team of 1948.

And why not? Not only did Otago win, but it overcame adversity to do so with style and panache.

Had it not been for a farewell gesture to allow John Leslie the last conversion attempt - place-suit - Otago would almost certainly have passed the half-century for the fifth time in 11 NPC matches. Even so, it was the highest winning score in a first division final.

The statistics still made impressive reading. Otago scored 521 points (67 tries) to 216 (25 tries) Tony Brown scored a record 196 points and Brendan Laney equalled Terry Wrights 1984 NPC record of 15 tries.

"Its all yours, Otago," Waikato captain Ian Forster said at the presentations. Danie Craven uttered the same sentiments after the All Blacks vanquised the Spring-boks in the tumultuous series of 1956, but with sourness, not with grace.

"This is a magic day for us… for everyone in Otago," captain Taine Randell said.

All the Otago players were cheered to the echo as they collected their winner's medals. The ultimate thoroughbred, Jeff Wilson, kissed his as he waved to the crowd. For one of New Zealand's greatest All Blacks to display such unconcealed delight made this final triumph that much more special for those who came to cheer.

But this victory, like the previous eight on the campaign trail, was built on the foundation of hard forward graft against a committed Waikato team.

Otago elected to play into the strong northwesterly and the first spell was anything but plain sailing as it lost Isitolo Maka with a recurrence of a hamstring injury after 13 minutes and Josh Kronfeld with a suspected cracked collarbone five minutes before half-time.

Otago hung in, indomitably at times, and lock Brendon Timmins crashed over for the only try of the spell nine minutes before half-time.

But the fans were anything but sanguine about Otago's prospects. They knew Waikato's ability to play into the wind and, just as significantly, there was a makeshift loose trio with Kelvin Middleton at No. 8, Randell on the openside flank and lock Simon Maling at blindside.
It seemed a recipe made for Waikato to exploit the blindside but the Otago tight five simply took charge and gave it no chance.

Otago scored 34 unanswered points in the first 31 minutes of the second half as the terrace crowd chanted - for the first time - "We've won the final."

Waikato scored two consolation tries before Otago, appropriately, signed off in style. Yeoman lock John Blaikie won yet another line-out and the Otago pack combined to shove Anton Oliver over for the try. Oliver was inspirational, a very fine All Black in the making, but so were the magnificent 17 who wrote such a proud chapter in Otago rugby history.

The scrum was dominant, Blaikie and Timmins had excellent all-round games, Middleton and Maling answered the call while Randell - on attack and defence - had arguably his finest match of the season.

Sentiment was always going to play a part in this final, and no-one could have scripted better John Leslie's farewell. Two minutes after half-time, Randell enveloped Glen Jackson in a driving tackle, Otago surged forward and Leslie slipped three tackles as he scored under the posts.

Tony Brown kept his cool on attack and defence, Reuben Parkinson made some scything tackles and a big break for Romi Ropati's try, Laney scored two tries in four minutes to send the crowd into a state approaching delirium, while Wilson was all skill, courage and commitment from fullback.

Byron Kelleher scooted 25m down the blind for a try, lost the ball over the line diving for another, and his performance also put his name in front of the national selectors.

Waikato played courageously, best exemplified by blindside flanker Aaron Hopa, wing Keith Lowen and fullback Damian Karauna, but this was emphatically Otago's day.

More than that, it was one of its finest hours in sport and, as the revelry continued in the streets of Dunedin last night, the reality started to sink in. Otago is the new national champion.

Scores: Otago 49 (Brendan Laney, 2, Brendon Timmins, John Leslie, Romi Ropati, Byron Kelleher, Anton Oliver tries, Tony Brown 4 conversions, 2 penalty goals); Waikato 20 (Bruce Reihana, Glen Jackson tries, Matthew Cooper 2 conversions, 2 penalty goals).

Match statistics: Line-outs, Otago, 12-10; rucks and mauls, Otago, 37-33; penalties, Otago, 6-3; scrums, Otago, 16-15. Kicking: Brown, 6-9; Leslie, 0-1; Cooper, 4-5. Half-time: Otago, 10-6. Crowd: 40, 026. Referee: Paddy O'Brien (Southland).

The teams. -

Otago: Jeff Wilson; Brendan Laney, Reuben Parkinson, Romi Ropati; John Leslie, Tony Brown; Byron Kelleher; Isitolo Maka, Josh Kronfeld, Taine Randell (captain), John Blaikie, Brendon Timmins, Kees Meeuws, Anton Oliver, Carl Hoeft. Replacements: Kelvin Middleton for Maka (13 min), Simon Maling for Kronfeld (35 min).

Waikato: Damian Karauna; Keith Lowen, Scott McLeod, Bruce Reihana; Matthew Cooper, Ian Foster (captain); Deon Muir, Nick Holten, Aaron Hopa, Mark Cooksley, Richard Coventry, Paul Martin, Greg Smith, Michael Collins. Replacements: Tony Petero for Cooksley, David Briggs for Collins, Nick Mantell for Smith, Glen Jackson for Foster, Jason Spice for Duggan.


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