Otago - NPC News - 2001

Scintillating skills from dominant Otago
By Brent Edwards

Whangarei: Even tough taskmaster Laurie Mains had the look of a satisfied man after Otago
comprehensively beat Northland 37-19 in their national championship match at Okara Park yesterday. Otago ventured north apprehensive after Northland's early form but displayed some scintillating skills in its six tries to one victory.

It extended Otago's record of not having lost in Whangarei since 1982, and there was some textbook rugby as Tom Willis' men ran Northland ragged with hard-driving forward play and some lethal counter-attacking. Otago's tries were built on ball retention, togetherness and some dynamic support play which outflanked the Northland defence.

"I've been up here a few times with Otago teams and this is probably the best performance we've had,"
coach Mains said later. "Everybody did their job in playing to the pattern and worked really hard."But Mains being Mains, it was not all wine and roses."I was disappointed after we scored points that tactically we didn't do it right from the kick-offs. That part of our game still needs some work - players taking the wrong options. "And I was just a bit concerned that we had a flat spell for a while in the second spell."

Otago's winning margin would have been much greater had it not missed at least three other tries through
passes not sticking, and Brendan Laney having an average day with his boot.But the same Laney scored two tries which had the big Maori sitting next to me exclaiming: "Gee man, why has that guy never been an All Black?"The first, by Laney standards, was relatively straightforward. He dummied, beat two tacklers and scored by the posts.The second, 16min from the end, had everyone shaking their heads in disbelief. There was nothing on, so it seemed, but Laney ran the blind from 35m and kept on running to score the try which put the result beyond doubt. It was reminiscent of his fabulous try against North Harbour but even Laney could not excel if his pack was not doing its job, and yesterday it most definitely was.

Captain Willis had the Otago tight five fizzing, and this allowed No 8 Paul Miller and openside flanker Josh
Blackie to express themselves indevastating fashion. Miller continually smashed over the advantage line and must have gained acres of territory during the match, Blackie was at the elbow of the ball carrier and he is the closest thing New Zealand rugby has to the dear
departed Josh Kronfeld. Locks Simon Maling and John Blaikie played their parts expertly while halfback David Gibson had an excellent game, providing snappy service, choosing his options wisely and showing a sharp turn of pace when he elected to run.

Otago, which played into a northerly wind, stunned Northland (and probably itself) by clocking up a bonus
point with four tries in the first 34min. Otago braced itself for the Northland onslaught in the second spell - Northland was only eight points adrift - but it never came as the Otago pack continued to dominate territory and possession.

Laney's second try made victory secure but the last, scored by wing Ryan Nicholas after a sweeping 75m
move in which Blackie and Gibson were prominent, was the icing on the cake. It was exhilarating stuff, as was much of Otago's play on this mild but occasionally showery Whangarei day. Wing Dan Parkinson celebrated his Otago debut with two tries in the first 17min, second five-eighth Seilala Mapusua often broke the first tackle and Hayden Reid was full of running from fullback. But it was a thorough team effort from a highly-motivated Otago side.

Northland was strangely subdued and it was not until front-rower Jason Hammond came on 25min from theend that it achieved some go-forward. "I'm very disappointed," Northland coach Bryce Woodward said. "Our guys came out very, very flat. Maybe it has something to do with Sunday rugby."

There were no complaints from Otago, although it has the long journey back from Whangarei today before
it prepares to play Southland in Invercargill next Sunday. "I know it will be hard there but I can assure you our attitude will be a little different to Queenstown [when
Southland won 31-20]," Mains said.

Scores were: Otago 37 (Dan Parkinson, 2, Brendan Laney, 2, George Leaupepe, Ryan Nicholas tries,Laney 2 conversions, penalty goal); Northland 19 (Jason Hita try, James Arlidge conversion, 4 penalty goals).

Match statistics: Line-outs, Otago, 15-7; rucks and mauls, Otago, 62-34; penalties, Northland, 13-8.Kicking: Laney, 3-8; Arlidge, 5-5. Half-time: 26-16. Crowd: About 5000. Referee: Paul Honiss (Waikato).


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