|Rare result Otago-Auckland script
By Brent Edwards
For those who have watched Otago struggle against Auckland
over the years, the last-gasp 23-22 win at Carisbrook on Saturday
was rich in irony. And WooHoo it felt
nice for a change.
Brendan Laney's dramatic last-minute converted try ended a losing
streak of 11 games and eight years and kept Otago in contention
for the semifinals of the national championship. Otago rewrote
the script during a match more notable for its earnest endeavour
than its quality. So often in the past Otago has been the gallant
loser against Auckland, denied victory by various means, including
controversial refereeing decisions. But this time it was a shattered
Auckland side which returned to its dressing room after Laney's
down 16-22, hammered away in the final stages and was awarded
a scrum feed about 10m from the line. Grant Webb surged off
the back, Filipo Levi smashed on, Laney had the ball from the
ruck and left three defenders sprawling as he stepped over under
the posts. He held his nerve to add the winning conversion,
and Auckland's day was summed up by the blustery wing blowing
Carlos Spencer's restart back behind the halfway line.
There was elation from the Otago players at the final whistle
but it was more out of relief than joy at a top-class performance.
It was a mixed bag by Otago, which still often looked disjointed
and indecisive. There were too many forwards scattered among
the backs and the backs lacked precision in moving the ball
wide. The line-outs were a major problem - Otago lost seven
of its own throws - although the wind was a contributing factor.
But what Otago lacked in rhythm and continuity, it compensated
for in sheer persistence and guts.
"It's indicative of the way the guys believed in themselves,"
captain Anton Oliver said. "Auckland slowly clawed their
way back and got on top of us but we had the courage and self-belief
to stick at it. "We needed the win so much because of what
had happened last week [the 62-19 loss to Canterbury].
"It's only seven days and it just shows what happens if
you get a group of guys who believe in what they're doing. It
wasn't a great performance but we still won and, at the end
of the day, that counts for everything." Oliver conceded
it had been hard to get back into the grind of the NPC but added:
"I love playing for Otago and it's only a matter of time
before we're firing on all cylinders." Oliver said the
wind made line-out throwing a nightmare, particularly from the
terrace touch. "The wind was a shocker. A lot of throws
just floated. A big guy with long arms [Ali Williams] cut off
quite a few of our throws. He did the same to Waikato."
Otago had the shunt on the Auckland scrum, particularly in
the first half, while the return of Paul Miller and Josh Blackie
gave Otago much more authority in the loose. It was Blackie
who scored the first try, 12 minutes before half-time, after
Jeff Wilson retrieved a kick downfield, cleverly wrong-footed
the pursuers and launched a counter-attack. Laney threw a long
cut-out pass to Dan Parkinson and Blackie gathered the final
transfer from George Leaupepe to race over in the scoreboard
Ali Williams had scored the first Auckland try
after 13 minutes, galloping 30m after Otago indecision under
the high ball, and Auckland added two in the second spell as
it claimed the lead with 15 unanswered points. Fullback Mils
Muliaina scored from an Otago turnover, beating Leaupepe and
propping inside Wilson, and left wing Iliesa Tanivula finished
off a concerted period of attack with a try in the corner. But
Otago worked its way back into Auckland territory, remained
patient and eventually the break came as the Auckland defence
cracked under the continual pressure. "The guys are pretty
shattered," coach Wayne Pivac said. "We didn't do
enough in the first half and that cost us in the end. We made
too many mistakes and gave away silly penalties. "A few
missed tackles and that was it. Laney's a good player and he
spotted the guys had drifted a bit."
Otago needed a hero to beat Auckland. Back in 1993 it was Jeff
Wilson with a spectacular try which he converted from the sideline.
On Saturday it was Laney. He, like Wilson, is assured of a place
in Otago rugby folklore.
Scores: Otago 23 (Josh Blackie, Brendan Laney tries; Laney
2 conversions, 3 penalty goals), Auckland 22 (Ali Williams,
Mils Muliaina, Iliesa Tanivula tries; Carlos Spencer 2 conversions,
Match statistics: Line-outs, Auckland, 15-10; rucks and
mauls, Otago, 102-63; penalties, Otago, 10-9. Kicking: Laney,
5-6; Spencer, 3-7. Half-time: Otago, 13-7. Referee: Paddy O'Brien