Otago - NPC News - 2003

Soul-searching for Otago in wake of hiding

By Brent Edwards

Greg Cooper will be asking questions of himself and his players in the wake of Otago's 49-18 thrashing by North Harbour at Carisbrook on Saturday night.

It was Otago's first loss at Carisbrook since it was beaten 62-19 by Canterbury in 2001 and its first home loss to North Harbour since it was beaten 60-24 in 1995. Otago regrouped so effectively from both those disasters that it went on to make the finals of the national championship. It now faces a massive task to do so again after its six tries to two loss against an inspired North Harbour side.

"We've got to be strong and we've got to ask questions of ourselves, starting with me, and try to work out how we can put this one behind us," Cooper said later. "There has to be frank and honest discussion. Everyone needs to have their input and, if there are any issues, to put them on the table before we move forward. "It is a team that gets on very well. It's been a difficult six or seven months, but this environment is a good environment. Until two weeks ago, it was a winning environment."

Cooper said he and players were aware they had "to win the public back" and that they failed to do so against North Harbour. "When you're head coach, it's a lonely position to be in. I've got a strong will and desire to turn this around because it's not about me, it's about Otago rugby. This isn't a happy experience for Otago rugby."
Cooper said there would be plenty of soul-searching during the week. "The first finger gets pointed at me and I've got to ask `what more could I have done?' Then we've got to ask the players `what more could they have done?' "It's a strange feeling. It's very disappointing. I feel really disappointed for Otago rugby, for the people who support us, and I feel I have a responsibility to try to turn things around."
Cooper said it was essential Otago bounced back and ensured "there was a real excitement about playing rugby". "That's not an easy thing from a coaching point of view because the players have got to want to be excited about it. "At times, against North Harbour, we didn't have the excitement. Defence is about excitement as well. If you fall off tackles, the excitement factor is not there.

"I can't put a finger on it but we didn't have that excitement level." Cooper said his major concern was that Otago had let games slip. "We've been in control of every game. We've appeared to have everything right and then, for some reason, things have gone wrong." Cooper said the North Harbour loss did not seem like a 31-point defeat - "the scoreline certainly blew out at the end" - but Otago had to address it. "They played really well and we missed some crucial tackles. I thought the North Harbour body positions were very low and we need to have a look at that as well."

Prop Joe McDonnell was nursing a bruised elbow after it was stamped on, and wing Brad Fleming had sore ribs, but the major Otago injury was its wounded pride. Otago faces the long trek to Whangarei next weekend and a must-win match against Northland, winless after six rounds.

Wellington will challenge Canterbury for the Ranfurly Shield next Saturday after Canterbury repulsed Waikato 35-24 at the weekend. Andrew Mehrtens controlled play as only he can before he limped off with a hamstring injury at half-time, but the entire Canterbury team lifted in its best performance of the season. Wellington limbered up for its challenge with an impressive 48-20 win over Taranaki in New Plymouth and, at its best, it will be a worthy challenger.
Otago would be the first challenger if Wellington beat Canterbury, but no-one was talking of such scenarios on Saturday night. Its first priority is to regain respectability.


Web design by Griffco  griffs@es.co.nz