Otago - NPC News - 2003


Frustration all round after dogfight
Otago salvages maximum points despite high penalty count
By Brent Edwards

This was a typical southern derby dogfight from which Otago emerged a frustrated winner and Southland an even more frustrated loser.

Otago's satisfaction at gaining maximum points was tempered by the hammering it suffered in the penalty count (16-8) and the damaging effect on its continuity. There was also the disruption to the pack caused by the second half knee injuries to Carl Hayman, Simon Maling and Joe McDonnell. Southland's frustration was in gaining nothing from a match in which it edged Otago in possession and territory, and in its continuing goal-kicking problems. Seremaia Bai kicked only three from seven and Southland, despite making so much of the play, had not a competition point to show for it.

Unlike the national championship opener against Auckland, Otago did take most of its chances and its defence - apart from two Southland line-out rumbles which produced tries - was strong and efficient. Otago led 25-10 after 32min but, as Southland worked up a head of steam and referee Gary Wise continued to spot Otago infringements, it lost all continuity. Remarkably, Otago spent the first 17min of the second spell in its own half and, just as remarkably, Southland went pointless.

But Otago did score four good tries, even if it was helped by some lax Southland defence. Seilala Mapusua scored the first after strong Otago scrum pressure caused Paul Miller to lose control of the ball and Sam Harding put Mapusua over by the posts. Right wing Matt Saunders bagged a brace in the space of 14min, the first a finely-worked planned move from a line-out, with Tony Brown throwing a long cut-out pass and Neil Brew making a half-break before drawing the defence. Saunders' second try came after a 45m dash when Otago turned over possession, Willie Walker broke blind and Saunders outran the cover defence. Otago scored its bonus point try 6min from the end, hard-working flanker Josh Blackie scoring after a drive from a line-out take by Filipo Levi.

"Josh is a tremendous player, Sam [Harding] is doing really well at No 8 and I'm just riding on their coat-tails," Otago captain Kelvin Middleton said later.

Otago coach Greg Cooper lamented the high penalty count (at one stage it was 15-2) against his side. "We couldn't get our game going that often because of the high penalty count against us. We showed what we could do when we did have the opportunities to attack. "What we need to do is to look at the tape, find out what we did wrong, and work out the reason for those penalties. "To get that score-line in the end was quite satisfying because we tend to struggle a bit in Invercargill." Cooper was particularly pleased with the defence, which he described as a continuation of that displayed against Auckland.

Neil Brew had his best game for Otago, tackling strongly in midfield and showing some nice touches on attack. "I've always rated Neil as a centre. He and Seilala defended very well and, when you've also got Tony Brown there, it's hard to break through," Cooper said. It was back to business as usual for Brown. He had his trademark bleeding nose after less than 30min as he hoed into his tackles against the Southland loose forwards. Byron Kelleher maintained a high workrate, made a couple of sniping runs, defended strongly, and ensured he will definitely be in tonight's World Cup selection.

The forwards produced patches of good, cohesive play but were not entirely convincing and, in the end, probably played as well as they had to. Blackie was again in fine touch from the open-side flank and he, Harding and Middleton were a formidable trio on attack and defence. Otago had a pronounced advantage at scrum time, but that was negated in the second spell through the injuries to Hayman, McDonnell and Maling. World Cup contenders Maling, Anton Oliver and Tom Willis had sound but unspectacular games in a match which became increasingly untidy. Jimmy Cowan kept Kelleher up to scratch at halfback, Hayden Martine was always a danger from the left wing and there was plenty of endeavour in the Southland pack. Hooker Jason Rutledge had an outstanding game in broken play and promoted himself as a contender for next year's Highlanders' squad.

"We played a lot of rugby, and got no reward, but we'll take confidence out of that game," Southland coach Phil Young said later. "I was happy with the forwards. I thought they put their hands up against highly-rated opposition. Just the wee birdie, just a wee bit of luck, would have helped."

Southland has now had two losses, but Otago captain Middleton believes the wins are not far away. "Southland played very well and they're going to give a few teams a hell of a shake-up," he said.

Scores. - Otago 33 (Matt Saunders, 2, Seilala Mapusua, Josh Blackie tries; Willie Walker 2 conversions, 3 penalty goals), Southland 22 (Steve Jackson, Paul Miller, Gavin Williams tries; Seremaia Bai 2 conversions, penalty goals).
Match statistics: Line-outs, Southland, 16-10; rucks and mauls, Otago, Otago, 57-50; penalties, Southland, 16-8. Kicking: Walker, 5-7; Bai, 3-7. Half-time: 25-10. Crowd: About 8000. Referee: Gary Wise (Hawkes Bay).


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