Otago - NPC News

Baby Blues' inexperience shows in Wellington wind

By Alistair McMurran

The strong northerly wind tripped up Otago when it was beaten 36-16 by Wellington in the final round-robin game of the NPC rugby competition at Athletic Park yesterday.

It was the first time Otago had lost to Wellington in an NPC game for 10 years and the first time Wellington had won the Mike Gibson Trophy. Last winter Otago thumped Wellington 82-10 at Carisbrook, but without its nine World Cup All Blacks it could only put its opposition under spasmodic pressure. The inexperience of the "Baby Blues" was shown up when they failed to use the famous Wellington wind to their advantage in the first spell. Otago attempted to run the ball from too far out instead of punting it into the corners and hoping to force Wellington into errors. First five-eighth Brendan Laney received a knock on his thigh early in the game and could not use his punt as effectively as his Wellington opposite, David Holwell, did in the second spell.

Otago, playing with the strong wind, dominated the first 10 minutes and led 10-0 when hooker Tom Willis scored after nine minutes. The try came after prop Joe McDonnell made a strong run into the Wellington 22m. Otago won two rucks and Laney and second five-eighth Michael Colling combined to break the line. Willis was up in support to score the try. Wellington controlled the ball for the next 15 minutes, keeping Otago away from the danger area. Otago was only able to add to its score after 26 minutes through a Laney penalty goal. Goal-kicking and the scrum were the only two areas in which Otago was able to match Wellington. The Otago goal kickers - Laney with three from four and Matt Carrington one from one - had more success than Holwell, who landed only two goals from his seven attempts. Laney's accurate goal-kicking gave Otago a 13-0 advantage playing with the wind in the first half.

A feature of Otago's play this winter has been its strong scrummaging. It was able to apply its strength and matched the strong Wellington pack. Strong games were played by McDonnell, Willis and replacement prop Carl Hayman. Solid games were played by loose forwards Kelvin Middleton and Duncan Blaikie who were forced to do a lot of tackling to shut down the Wellington attacks. Wellington's exciting backline and displayed flashes of brilliance into the wind in the first spell. But strong tackling in the midfield by Reuben Parkinson and by fullback Hayden Reid kept Wellington scoreless. Parkinson broke a bone in his hand and did not return for the second spell. This disrupted the Otago defensive pattern. and a rampant Wellington took advantage of this to score six tries and 36 points in the second spell.

Wellington seldom attempted to run the ball back at Otago from its own half when it played with the wind at its back. It slammed the ball back into the corners and most of its attacking moves in the second spell were initiated from the Otago 22m. Otago was still in the game when Matt Carrington kicked a penalty goal midway through the second spell behind by just 17-16. But a confident Wellington, playing before a home crowd of 30,000 in what will probably be the last game of rugby at Athletic Park, ran in three more tries in the last 18 minutes. The Wellington backs timed the pass to perfection to create the gaps and used their speed down the blindside. Reid made try-saving tackles on Wellington halfback Jason Spice and winger Brad Fleming in the last 10 minutes.

Scores: Wellington 36 (Jason O'Halloran, David Holwell, Inoke Afeaki, Brad Fleming 2, Filo Tiatia tries; Holwell 3 conversions), Otago 16 (Tom Willis try; Brendan Laney conversion, 2 penalty goals, Matt Carrington penalty goal). Half-time Otago 13-0.

Crowd: 30,000. Referee: Steve Walsh sen (North Harbour).


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