Otago - NPC News

Priscott again shows worth as Otago remains unbeaten
By Brent Edwards

Mathew Priscott again proved his value as Otago maintained its unbeaten national championship record with a 38-25 win over Counties-Manukau at Pukekohe on Saturday.

Ahead 14-0 after 20 minutes and 17-10 at half-time, Otago was struggling and trailing 17-20 midway through the second spell when Priscott seized the initiative. The Harbour three-quarter, who had replaced injured fullback Hayden Reid, broke out from his own 22m, collected his own chip and young hooker Tom Willis made a 30m dash to the line to put Otago back in front. Six minutes later Priscott struck again, intercepting a pass from George Leaupepe and sprinting 55m to the posts to give Otago an 11-point cushion.

Counties was not finished and, when Loki Crichton scored and converted after concerted attack five minutes from the end, it was right back in contention. But this was when the Otago forwards took over. They produced a 20m rolling maul from a line-out and No. 8 Matt O'Connell - who had been so impressive after he came on as a substitute for Simon Maling 10 minutes into the second spell - smashed over for Otago's fifth try. Despite the imperfections, which included some costly missed tackles, it was an improved performance by Otago against a Counties side which displayed plenty of commitment after its limp display against Canterbury. Priscott must be thinking NPC rugby is a doddle. He scored the match-saving try against Southland after he came on as a substitute and he used his pace and skills to good effect every time he had possession against Counties. To underline the newness of the Otago side, Priscott was the only player to have previously scored a try for the province. Cory Brown, Reid, Willis and O'Connell all touched down for the first time in what was a hard-earned win. Brown scored when he scooped up the loose ball after Counties tapped untidily at a line-out and Reid sped away with the overlap after the Otago forwards drove their opponents off the ball to secure a tighthead.

Otago fell off tackles when John Akurangi and Paul Tom scored their tries but, overall, there was much more composure about this performance. "The boys didn't panic and that was the key thing," coach Kevin Gloag said. "We just have to try to keep on improving if we want to be competitive against the top sides." Experienced locks Brendon Timmins and John Blaikie led from the front, Willis continues to increase in stature, Kelvin Middleton continued his excellent form and flanker Duncan Blaikie was top value, tackling, hustling and forcing several turnovers. Matt Carrington kicked expertly with the breeze at his back, Brown was a gutsy competitor at halfback, Reid pulled off several magnificent boot-lace tackles and Brendan Laney made a solid contribution as well as kicking six goals from eight attempts.

Scores: Otago 38 (Cory Brown, Hayden Reid, Tom Willis, Mathew Priscott, Matt O'Connell tries; Brendan Laney 5 conversions, penalty goal), Counties-Manukau 25 (John Akurangi, Paul Tom, Loki Crichton tries; Crichton 2 conversions, 2 penalty goals). Half-time: Otago 17-10.


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