Otago - NPC News

Laney experiment not enough to win

By Alistair McMurran

The Ranfurly Shield will not return to Dunedin this century, despite a courageous challenge by the Otago "Baby Blues" at Hamilton on Saturday . Waikato used its experience and local knowledge of Rugby Park to score three tries and repulse the Otago challenge 29-17.

The first 30 minutes belonged to the Otago forwards, who hunted as a pack to put pressure on the startled Waikato forwards. Referee Glenn Wahlstrom (Auckland) awarded three kickable penalties to Otago during this period but he could easily have penalised Waikato out of the game for infringements around rucks and mauls. The Waikato forwards played the ball on the ground and jumped in on the wrong side of rucks and mauls in an attempt to slow the game. Another 12 points to Otago during this period would have stretched the lead to 24-8 and made it difficult for Waikato to come back.

The Otago pack played with fire and prop Joe McDonnell and hooker Tom Willis displayed power in the tight-loose. Locks Brendon Timmins and John Blaikie and captain Kelvin Middleton gave Otago a 19-9 edge in the line-outs. This included ball from five Waikato throws. Flankers Duncan Blaikie and Middleton both had stand out games. They tackled like demons, supported the ball carrier and were dangerous with the ball in hand. Middleton led by example and the rest of the pack responded.

The Otago selectors, in a bid to upset Waikato, adopted a bold approach to the challenge by shifting the mercurial Brendan Laney from the wing to first five-eighth. Laney had played dynamic rugby in the position in a one-off NPC game two years ago when Otago beat Canterbury at Carisbrook. "We wanted to give it a shot and get a bit of go forward," Middleton said. Laney played with confidence from the start and his accurate goal kicking had given Otago a 12-8 lead after 29 minutes. This included a dropped goal after four minutes and three penalty goals.

Otago played with the breeze in the first spell but the lack of local knowledge meant that it failed to exploit it effectively. Waikato led 14-12 at the break and took the initiative at the start of the second spell by pinning Otago within its own 22m. It was only the stout Otago defence that stopped Waikato scoring during this period. But the writing was on the wall and it was just a matter of time before Waikato turned its territorial advantage into points. In a four-minute period from the fourteenth to the eighteenth minutes, Waikato scored two tries and 12 points and Otago's shield hopes were dashed as Waikato led 26-12.
The first try was scored by centre and former All Black Scott McLeod, who broke the line 40m out and used his speed to score in the corner. The second try came from a forward melee close to the Otago line when the Waikato forwards drove to the line and prop David Briggs scored the try. McLeod had an outstanding game. He also broke the Otago line when winger Roger Randle scored the first try midway through the first spell. Waikato had too much pace in the three-quarters and always looked dangerous with the ball in hand.

The Otago backline lacked the speed to be an effective attacking unit, but it was generally sound on defence. Mathew Priscott scored Otago's only try after 23 minutes in the second spell when he used his strength to cross the line after Otago won a line-out close to the Waikato line. Priscott also stood out for his strong tackling. Otago failed to exploit its chances when Waikato was reduced to 14 men when Mark Cooksley was sent to the sin bin for a high tackle on Otago halfback David Gibson late in the first half.

Scores: Waikato 29 (Scott McLeod, Roger Randle, David Briggs tries; Glen Jackson conversion, penalty goal, dropped goal, Matthew Cooper 2 penalty goals), Otago 17 (Mathew Priscott try; Brendan Laney 3 penalty goals, dropped goal).

Match statistics. - Territory: Waikato 63%, Otago 37%; possession, Otago 53%, Waikato 47%; rucks and mauls, Otago, 60-43; line-outs, Otago, 19-9.


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