Otago - NPC News - 2003


Otago muddles way to third win
By Brent Edwards

Otago sneaked victory in this mediocre match at Carisbrook only because Bay of Plenty did not seem to know how to win it.

It was Bay of Plenty's second consecutive close loss and Otago's third consecutive win after a muddling game in which neither side was able to seize the initiative. Otago was fortunate to avoid its first loss to Bay of Plenty in 22 years and the modest-sized crowd headed quickly to the exits as the final hooter sounded. There was a lack of concentration, cohesion and intensity from Otago in this sloppy performance and, at times, it seemed the players' minds were elsewhere.

When Otago scored two tries in 2min to lead 18-3 after 32min, it seemed it was about to take the game by the scruff of the neck and coast to a four-try bonus point win. But defensive mistakes allowed Bay of Plenty to strike back with 10 points in the few minutes before half-time and the game meandered for much of the second spell. Otago did have its chances. Aisea Tuilevu lost the ball forward close to the line after five phases, Neil Brew knocked on after Tuilevu broke the defence with a 30m run, and Anton Oliver was held up in goal after a line-out drive. But Bay of Plenty scored the only try of the half 13min from the end, wing Anthony Tahana getting his second when he beat Tuilevu, Seilala Mapusua and Glen Horton on a 25m run to the line.

Bay of Plenty had a golden opportunity when it forced a scrum turnover inside the Otago 22 2min from the end but, as it attacked for the winning try, it turned over possession itself. That just about summed up this mistake-riddled game in which an essentially professional team on its home ground almost lost to an essentially amateur team. Otago missed Carl Hayman and Simon Maling in the pack and there was some untidy work at kick- offs, scrums and line-outs, and much aimless kicking by the backs. It was difficult to decipher the game plan as forwards loitered among the backs, and the backs kicked the ball straight to the opposition and surrendered possession.

One of the few shining lights was flanker Josh Blackie, who has scored six tries in five games for Otago this season and who maintained his focus throughout. He was on the end of a long pass from Mapusua to score the first try after he called for a quick tap penalty, and he initiated the second after the Otago forwards botched the ensuing kick-off. Blackie grabbed the loose ball, linked with Tuilevu who made a long run and, from the ruck, quick ball enabled Mapusua to burst over close to the posts. That was the end of the highlights package in a game few will want to remember.

Horton did well in his first game at fullback, apart from one missed tackle. He was courageous on defence and under the high ball, and enterprising on attack.

Bay of Plenty coach Vern Cotter was disappointed his side did not finish off its opportunities more efficiently but pleased at its tenacity. "That's twice in the last two weeks we've been down and come back to threaten at the end," he said. "We're improving as a team and we want to confirm we are worthy of our place in the first division."

Bay of Plenty wheeled Otago at several scrums, contested line-outs strongly and, had it not made mistakes at critical times, it could have clinched a famous victory. But the real heroes were the spectators who stayed to the end of a game which, for long periods, did not warrant its first division status.

Scores. - Otago 24 (Josh Blackie, Seilala Mapusua tries, Willie Walker conversion, 4 penalty goals); Bay of Plenty 20 (Anthony Tahana 2 tries, Glen Jackson 2 conversions, 2 penalty goals).
Match statistics: Line-outs, Otago, 16-10; rucks and mauls, Otago, 85-64; penalties, Otago, 10-6. Kicking: Walker, 4-6; Jackson, 4-5. Half-time: 18-13. Crowd: 5500. Referee: Paul Honiss (Waikato).


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