Dogged defence nets Otago the win
By Brent Edwards
A Herculean defensive effort provided the platform for an
enthralling 15-12 win by Otago over North Harbour in the national
provincial championship match at Carisbrook last night.
North Harbour had almost all the ball in the second spell and
the Otago players tackled themselves to a standstill as they
repelled assault after assault. There was a pulsating finale
when North Harbour recycled the ball for almost 20 phases in
search of the winning try, but desperate Otago defence kept
Mark Robinson's men penned inside their 22.
It was a staunch display by a depleted Otago side, which had
the odds stacked against it when it took the
field before a crowd of 28,000. Otago was already without eight
All Blacks, and had lost four other players injured in the past
week, then powerful prop Kees Meeuws was a late withdrawal yesterday
because of influenza. This considerably weakened Otago's scrum
and driving play, but not its spirit, as it thrived on theadrenaline-charged
dominated territorially in the first quarter and fullback Hayden
Reid scored a lovely try after 23
minutes. Halfback David Gibson ran left from a ruck, Brendan
Laney threw a long cut-out pass, James Jowesey,
Ryan Nicholas and Paul Miller chimed in, and Reid sprinted over
5m from the Rose Stand corner. Otago was walking a tightrope
at 7-6 at half-time after two Willie Walker penalties reduced
the deficit, but
Laney's try 12 minutes into the second spell proved the game-breaker.
Kark TeNana's pass went astray with North Harbour on furious
attack, George Leaupepe scooped up the
loose ball, slipped it to Laney, and he contrived to slip a
couple of tackles and cause complete confusion in
the Harbour defence as he raced 70m to the scoreboard corner.
His conversion from touch was a poster and there was a feeling
Otago needed at least those extra points as North Harbour continued
to batter away.
Substitute Frano Botica, very sprightly indeed for his 38 years,
nudged over two penalties and Otago had a
long last eight minutes to maintain its three-point lead. The
defence, collectively and individually, was indomitable. Gibson
pulled off a beauty on a rampaging Scott Adams, Hale Tu'uhoko
got across to force TeNana into touch and the dark blue line
held firm - roared on by the packed terrace - in the final,
frenetic minutes. It was not all defence and, four minutes from
the end, rampaging No 8 Paul Miller almost scored when substitute
halfback Brett McCormack ran the blind. At the final whistle
by Gary Wise, the exhausted Otago players raised their arms
aloft and they were clapped from the ground by an appreciative
crowd. Miller was inspirational from the back of an often-struggling
Otago scrum, Josh Blackie was everywhere in
the loose and effective in the line-outs, lock Simon Maling
was very much the senior pro of this young pack, while captain
and hooker Tom Willis provided a sterling example.
Otago did not try to be too ambitious in a backline, which
is still coming together as a unit. Gibson was a livewire and
gutsy halfback, Laney gave Otago the inspiration it needed with
his solo flight,m Ryan Nicholas was impressively strong on attack
and defence at centre, and there were some promising
signs from Reid at fullback.
This was a game North Harbour should have won but, at the end,
it did not even have the satisfaction of a
try, although it did gain a bonus point. Glen Osborne ran impressively
from fullback, Adams was a penetrative runner when he replaced
Aisea Tuilevu, halfback Mark Robinson played strongly, but vital
passes so often went to land rather than hand. Blair Urlich
had a strong, constructive game from No 8, flankers Matua Parkinson
and Craig Newby were quick to the breakdown and the front row
of Tevita Taumoepeau, Slade McFarland and Tony Woodcock scrummaged
impressively. But the forwards must have been mortified at the
lack of profit for all their hard graft in what was, for North
Harbour, another might-have-been game.
Willis, in his first game as Otago captain, was "rapt"
with the courage displayed by his players. "They just kept
getting up and making their tackles, then getting up and doing
the same thing again. Youcouldn't have asked for more commitment."
Scores: Otago 15 (Hayden Reid, Brendan Laney tries; Laney
conversion, penalty goal), North Harbour 12(Willie Walker 2,
Frano Botica 2 penalty goals).
Match statistics: Line-outs, Otago, 14-11; rucks and mauls,
North Harbour, 75-44; penalties, NorthHarbour, 13-8. Kicking:
Laney, 2-5; Walker, 2-3; Botica, 2-2. Half-time: Otago, 7-6.
Referee: Gary Wise (Hawkes Bay).