Otago - NPC News

Rudderless Otago slumps to second loss at home

By Brent Edwards

A nondescript Otago side devoid of confidence and cohesion slumped to its second consecutive home loss when it was beaten 35-16 by Canterbury at Carisbrook on Saturday night.

Newcomers Aaron Mauger and Chris Jack made stunning impacts as Canterbury scored four tries to one to move into second place in the national championship. Mauger (19) followed Aucklander Orene Ai'i as the second opposition first five-eighth to star at Carisbrook in consecutive weeks. He directed play with authority, punting powerfully, running strongly, supporting enthusiastically and flourishing between the experienced Aaron Flynn and Mark Mayerhofler. Jack leapt like a stag in the middle of the line-outs, claiming 10 clean takes and providing Canterbury with the quality possession to launch telling attacks. In contrast, the Otago inside backs lacked authority and the forwards - the heart of the team during the NPC campaign to date - struggled to impose themselves.

Otago seemed flat. It went in fits and starts, in small pockets of individuals rather than as an aggressive fighting unit. There was brief optimism when Romi Ropati scored 11 minutes into the game after a sweeping 65m move when Matt Carrington ran the blind side from a ruck, Hayden Reid beat a tackle, sprinted 40m and his in-pass gave Ropati an unimpeded run to the line. But Otago flattered to deceive. The only other time it crossed the line was in the final act of the match, when substitute Reuben Parkinson crashed over, but the pass was ruled forward by referee Glenn Wahlstrom. By then, Otago's fate had been well and truly settled by a Canterbury team which played the percentages and exploited the home team's mistakes.

The Otago forwards lacked the intensity which enabled them to shade Auckland, and the backs, at times, looked little above club standard as they dithered with their organisation and missed important tackles. Canterbury scored the decisive try just before half-time, wing Daryl Lilley sliding over in the corner after three phases. Wahlstrom awarded the try despite suspicions Liley was out in goal before he forced the ball. "That try was a bit of a killer," Otago captain Kelvin Middleton said later. But Otago was still in contention at 16-23 and, when Michael Colling broke a tackle and burst to the shadow of the posts, the chance was there to level the scores. But Canterbury weathered the attack - or rather, Otago blew the chance because of its indecision - and that was the game. Canterbury stormed back and added two tries in the last 10 minutes - the first to Mayerhofler after a slipped pass from flanker Angus Gardiner and the second from Flynn after the forwards drove on Jack's line-out take. Otago simply could not put the bits and pieces together often enough to be a constant menace and, while it had cause to be baffled by some of Wahlstrom's decisions, it could not (and did not) blame him for its performance.

The tight five lacked the cutting edge of some previous games and the two indefatigable flankers, Middleton and Duncan Blaikie, were the pick of the pack. Second five-eighth Colling had a much improved game and, while the other backs had their moments, they were interspersed with mistakes. Ropati was fortunate to escape the sin-bin for a stupid shoulder-charge on Leon MacDonald and Otago will need to play with much more discipline and desire if it is to give Waikato a shake next weekend. Canterbury did not try anything outrageous but its forwards provided quicker, tidier possession and its backs - with Flynn, Mauger and Mayerhofler prominent - were more solid.

Scores: Canterbury 35 (Aaron Mauger, Daryl Lilley, Mark Mayerhofler, Aaron Flynn tries; Lilley 2 conversions, penalty goal, Ben Blair conversion, 2 penalty goals), Otago 16 (Romi Ropati try; Brendan Laney conversion, 3 penalty goals).

Match statistics: Line-outs: Canterbury, 15-11; rucks and mauls: Canterbury, 46-44; penalties: Canterbury, 9-7; scrums: Canterbury, 12-10. Kicking: Blair, 3-5; Lilley, 3-5; Laney, 4-5. Half-time: 20-10. Crowd: About 12,000. Referee: Glenn Wahlstrom (Auckland).


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