Otago - NPC News - 2003

Fresh faced and full of pace
Otago's new recruits shine in demolition of lowly Northland

Otago's new boys were outstanding in this rout of bottom-placed, winless Northland at Okara Park.

Otago scored nine tries to three to lift to second in the national championship, while Northland is now eight points adrift at the bottom of the table. Otago played precise, clinical rugby to lead 58-3 going into the last quarter, but some of the gloss was lost from its performance when it conceded three converted tries in the last eight minutes. The Otago forwards dominated for most of the game and the backs were much more decisive and accurate than in recent weeks.

New first five-eighth Mathew Berquist, No 8 Samiu Vahafolau and first-year wing Matt Saunders were all able to parade their talents on this fine Whangarei night. Berquist opened the scoring with a 51m penalty goal and kicked eight goals from 11 attempts. He also chose his options well, kicked accurately in general play and displayed considerable maturity for a 20-year-old. Vahafolau was an imposing figure from the back of the scrum, bouncing off tacklers in metre-eating runs, several of which led to tries. And Saunders scored a hat trick of tries and made hardly a mistake in an efficient performance from the left wing. His second try was a gem when, after Vahafolau ran the ball back almost 50m from inside his 22, Saunders pinned his ears back, cut through the defence and sprinted 35m to the posts.

Ryan Nicholas and Seilala Mapusua were damaging runners and tacklers in midfield and Glen Horton was again an elusive counter-attacker from fullback. The Otago set pieces worked well and there was much more urgency about the team as it put aside its setbacks of the previous two weeks. Filipo Levi lifted the intensity of his game and in-form flanker Josh Blackie continued his fine season, scoring his fourth try of the NPC when he finished off an explosive burst by Vahafolau.

Captain Kelvin Middleton was delighted by the response of the players to the consecutive losses against Waikato and North Harbour. "We've been disappointed in ourselves the last two games," he said. "Our backs were against the wall and to come away with a score like that was fantastic. "We trained hard and well this week, and it paid off. This time, when we put pressure on inside the opposition 22, we were able to finish off."

Northland, for much of the game, was woeful, but the three late tries gave it some respectability. It is now virtually certain to face a promotion-relegation match against the winner of the second division. "It's very disappointing; we're a better side than that," captain Glenn Taylor said. "We've just got to keep our chins up and keep up the momentum that we had in the last quarter against Otago."

Otago 65 (Matt Saunders, 3, Neil Brew, Seilala Mapusua, Glen Horton, Josh Blackie, Sam Harding, Willie Walker tries; Mathew Berquist 6 conversions, 2 penalty goals, Tony Brown conversion), Northland 24 (Matt Faleuka, Moses Tuiali'i, Ta Tamarua tries, James Arlidge 3 conversions, penalty goal). Half-time: 34-3. Referee: Steve Walsh (North Harbour).


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