Otago does enough to finish top
Seilala Mapusua continued his strong national championship
form as Otago qualified top and
clinched a home semifinal with a solid win over Taranaki at
Carisbrook yesterday. Mapusua scored the first try, his sixth
of the season, and invariably made ground with his strong
running as Otago gained its seventh win in nine round robin
a far from flawless performance - it lacked both intensity
and accuracy at times - but Otago's five-tries-to-two win
fairly reflected its superiority over dogged but limited opposition.
The strapping Mapusua made some busting runs from centre and
was the pick of a backline which only spasmodically achieved
the fluency it sought.
battered the Taranaki defence with strength rather than silky
skills. Its first four tries were all from close range, three
from line-out drives. But there was a reminder of the attacking
talent in the team when Joe McDonnell pinched the ball from
a maul, Willie Walker cut through and replacement Glen Horton
dummied to his left before racing 40m to the posts. But
this game was all about winning, claiming a play-off in front
of its fans and providing a timely boost to the Otago Rugby
Football Union coffers.
achieved what we wanted and now we'll look forward to Auckland
next week," Otago captain Kelvin Middleton said later.
extremely pleased. If I'd known at the start of the season
we'd qualify first, I would have been a happy man." Middleton
described the match against Taranaki as "excellent preparation"
for the semifinal against Auckland. "It
was a wake-up call. It was hard and physical. Auckland had
a fantastic win in Christchurch and we'll have to be on top
of our game." Middleton
acknowledged Otago was a few notches below its best yesterday
as it struggled at times to combat a feisty Taranaki pack
and a backline which showed more enterprise than in some previous
Shayne Austin scored two well-executed tries, while second
five-eighth Bryce Robins exposed defensive deficiencies in
the Otago midfield. Otago's progress was also impeded by the
penalties it conceded on attack at rucks and mauls and it
would not have been satisfied at the number of times it turned
over possession. All
Blacks contender Simon Maling made the line-out takes which
led to Otago's first two tries and an encouraging return after
a seven-week enforced layoff.
put the game out of range at 25-6 9min into the second spell
when Tony Brown wrestled over after seven phases, but Taranaki
battled to the end and salvaged some respectability from what
has been a disappointing campaign. Otago's line-out worked
particularly well, its scrum was solid and Tom Willis and
McDonnell were prominent in general as well as set play.
Lee had a lively game from halfback and made an important
try-saving tackle on centre Matt Harvey after Robins split
the Otago defence. Horton added impact to the Otago attack
and showed some clever skills when he came on for the last
17min, but the wings, Brad Fleming and Neil Brew, were not
as gainfully employed as they would have hoped.
Hore, despite spending 10min in the sin bin for a professional
foul, had a strong all-round game at hooker for Taranaki,
as did prop Gordon Slater, lock Paul Tito and No 8 John Willis.
Robins, who has had an injury-disrupted season, showed what
a threat he could be in a Taranaki side which, at least, fired
a few shots in its last game of the season.
39 (Tom Willis, 2, Seilala Mapusua, Tony Brown, Glen
Horton tries; Willie Walker 4 conversions, 2 penalty goals),
Taranaki 20 (Shayne Austin 2 tries; Daryl
Lilley 2 conversions, 2 penalty goals).