Otago - NPC News - 2003


Win to Otago the old-fashioned way
By Brent Edwards

It was ugly, it was tense, it was dour, but Otago gained a precious 6-3 win over Auckland in the national championship match at Carisbrook last night.

It was only Otago's second win over Auckland in their last 14 games, but the reaction at the end was of relief rather than joy at having beaten its most difficult foe. It was a mistake-riddled match on a wet, miserable night in which Otago failed to capitalise on its 70% territorial advantage. Auckland mounted an heroic defence, which Otago was unable to crack, and in the end it almost seemed to run out of ideas.

Wing Brad Fleming probably could have clinched victory 15min from the end, but he was unable to hold a pass from Neil Brew with the line in sight. This was one of many handling mistakes Otago made at critical times. There was drama right until the end when Tony Brown, believing time was up, kicked the ball into touch.
Auckland mounted an attack from the line-out inside its 22, steam rolled down field and, when a ruck broke up about 35m from the Otago line, referee Kelvin Deaker's arm again went in the air. Otago hearts were in their mouths, for it seemed the penalty could have gone either way, but Deaker ruled in favour of Otago and, this time, Willie Walker did end the game when he kicked the ball out."

Otago spent long periods in the Auckland 22, particularly in the first half, but the Auckland defence was rock-solid and Otago took some questionable options. There was some ill-directed kicking and, at other times, some ambitious passing in the awkward conditions. There were also times when too many Otago forwards in the backline slowed down the passage of the ball and Auckland was able to regroup.

Walker, who kicked eight goals from eight against Southland last week, kicked only two from five last night and it was not until full-time the value of his two successes became apparent. The Otago line-out worked well, with Filipo Levi, Simon Maling and Sam Harding securing quality ball, but there were times when it seemed Otago could have driven more to commit the Auckland pack. Otago had the stronger scrum, but there was an uncertain combination at times between No 8 Harding and the halfbacks as David Gibson spoiled possession. Oliver had a robust all-round game, Joe McDonnell continues to improve his workrate, there were some clever touches from Harding, Josh Blackie was a tireless tackler and forager and Kelvin Middleton played himself to a standstill. In fact, the entire Otago pack played well enough but it was unable to dominate the young but steely Auckland eight.

But the backs almost invariably made mistakes whenever they threatened and Auckland, which had played Samoa in the wet at Eden Park last weekend, employed a noticeably shorter-passing game. There was good and bad from the individual Otago backs, for mistakes were inevitable on such a night, but Auckland looked a more dangerous attacking unit. Seilala Mapusua was strong at times, made mistakes at others, and was typical of the Otago backline. Byron Kelleher was aggressive and strong when he subbed Danny Lee for the last 30min but he made mistakes, too, as the crowd waited to see which side would crack first. Neither did, Otago was unable to deliver the knock-out, but it did reclaim the City of Auckland Cup for its endeavors.

David Gibson, in his harassing and kicking options, was excellent value for Auckland, Sam Tuitupou was strong at second five-eighth and Brent Ward an accomplished fullback. Daniel Braid and Justin Collins were outstanding in the Auckland loose trio, Bryce Williams soared high in the line-outs and replacement flanker Siona Lauaki was dynamic in the last quarter.

But Otago, somehow, held on to win - an ugly victory on a a lousy night and, hopefully, one that will set the foundation for more precise performances in subsequent games. Otago 6 (Willie Walker 2 penalty goals), Auckland 3 (Brent Ward penalty goal).
Match statistics: Line-outs, Otago, 23-18; rucks and mauls, Otago 69-51; penalties, Auckland, 12-11. Kicking: Walker, 2-5; Ward, 1-2. Half-time: 6-3. Crowd: About 8000. Referee: Kelvin Deaker (Hawkes Bay).


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