Otago - NPC News - 2001

Rare result Otago-Auckland script rewrite
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 late heroics.
Otago, 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 corner.

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, penalty goal).

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 (Southland).


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