Otago - NPC News - 2001

Canterbury inflicts maximum pain
By Brent Edwards

It became one of Otago rugby's darkest hours as it was overwhelmed 62-19 by clinical Canterbury in the national championship match at Carisbrook on Saturday night.

A stunned crowd watched almost in silence as Canterbury ran in nine tries to three, five in a sublime first half in which it led 38-0 after 34 minutes. It was one of the finest performances by a New Zealand provincial side in the past decade and revived memories of the great Auckland teams of the late-1980s. But it was made possible by an Otago side which at times was almost embarrassingly inept, turning over precious possession with basic handling errors. Canterbury punished the mistakes ruthlessly and ran in some breath-taking, long-range tries against a defence which began to leak like a sieve.

Justin Marshall punched holes around the fringes, Andrew Mehrtens almost seemed to have the ball on a string while the Mauger brothers, Aaron and Nathan, and wing Caleb Ralph cut some merry capers out wide. But it all began up front where the well-drilled Canterbury pack gave its backs, and exceptional young flanker Richard McCaw, the platform to parade their talents. Canterbury was as close to faultless as a rugby team gets in the first half, helped as it was by 11 Otago turnovers and nine missed tackles. The Canterbury backs ran on to the ball at pace and depth and the Otago defensive screen wilted under the onslaught. The ball might have bounced for Canterbury, some refereeing decisions might have gone in its favour, but that tends to happen in such situations.

The Otago line-out worked well, Simon Maling and John Blaikie winning all their own throws, individually there were some promising surges by Justin Matheson, Grant Webb and Kees Meeuws, but collectively the Otago pack was outplayed. David Gibson emerged with some credit after a torrid night at halfback and Jeff Wilson commended himself for four or five excellent tackles, one a stunning try-saver on Ralph. Pita Alatini scored just before half-time after a nice offload by Matheson, Wilson five minutes into the second spell after a forward drive, while flanker Sam Harding surged over after a concerted attack in the final act of the game.
But these were crumbs from the Canterbury table, whose coach Steve Hansen, despite the performance, was his usual impassive self. "We've hung our hat on doing the basics well and that first half was pretty clinical," he acknowledged. "We're trying to use space and I guess at times we did that quite well. We want to play a type of game involving everybody. It's working hard and doing your basic core job, and the things that come after that are a bonus. "We'll enjoy the win but it's just one match in a long journey." Hansen praised his All Black inside combination, Marshall and Mehrtens, who controlled play so impressively. "Justin just concentrated on doing his job. He had a platform to work off and we saw the Justin we all know and like."

Otago faces a week of intense organisation before it plays Auckland at Carisbrook on Saturday.

Scores: Canterbury 62 (Richard McCaw 3, Matt Sexton, Andrew Mehrtens, Aaron Mauger, Sam Broomhall, Justin Marshall, Nathan Mauger tries; Ben Blair 7 conversions, penalty goal), Otago 19 (Pita Alatini, Jeff Wilson, Sam Harding tries; Tony Brown 2 conversions).

Match statistics: Line-outs, Otago, 18-16; rucks and mauls, Canterbury, 30-25; penalties, Otago, 14-6. Kicking: Blair, 8-11; Brown, 2-4. Half-time: 38-7. Crowd: About 14,000. Referee: Kelvin Deaker (Hawkes Bay).


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