It wasn’t a complete performance, but Otago’s 30-27 win over Tasman ensured they maintained their unbeaten run and underlined their Championship credentials in Dunedin on Saturday.
Otago raced to a 14-0 lead within the first 12 minutes thanks to tries to captain Paul Grant and Craig Millar. However, Tasman responded with 20 consecutive points of their own to claim a deserved 27-21 halftime lead.
Three Fletcher Smith penalties was complemented by some stoic defence that kept the Makos scoreless in the second half despite plenty of endeavour in the final 10 minutes.
The victory was Otago’s first win over Tasman since 2012, and continues their unbeaten run in the Championship. The hosts, who now have 24 competition points out of a possible 25, have a seven-day turnaround before playing North Harbour at home next Saturday.
For Tasman, the defeat means the side remains perilously close to the relegation zone. The solitary bonus point claimed meant they are ahead of cellar dwellers Hawke’s Bay by six points, and play Northland in Nelson on Thursday.
Despite perfect conditions, the match was a typical game of two differing halves. The first 40 minutes saw plenty of attacking rugby and six tries scored, while the second period only saw nine points scored through Fletcher Smith’s boot.
However, it was a big confidence-boosting victory for the hosts in their first game against Premiership opposition. The victory would have satisfied the championship-winning Otago side from 1991, who were in attendance for the game to celebrate the milestone and watch the next generation of talent.
The first half was all attack, and Otago got off to the perfect start when Grant scored within the first five minutes to the delight of the crowd. A 7-0 lead soon became 14-0, as Millar worked his way over the line from close range.
However, any hopes of a walkover soon evaporated however, as Marty Banks’ boot and tries to Alex Nankivell and captain Shane Christie saw them claim a 20-14 lead.
Otago looked to have finished the first half on a high with a well-executed lineout drive that resulted in a try to Naulia Dawai, but a superb try to David Havili saw the Makos claim a 27-21 lead.
The attacking masterclass was replaced in the second half by a defensive one, and despite many opportunities on attack, the Makos were left battered, bruised and forced to accept a solitary bonus point.
Smith was in particularly impressive form for the hosts, while Michael Collins and Mitchell Scott also impressed on attack and defence.
Marty Banks was in typically clinical fashion with the kicking tee, his third conversion of the afternoon helping him notch 500 career points for the Makos. Billy Guyton illustrated the composure his side needed from halfback, particularly after they were two tries down within the first quarter of the match.
Otago 30 (Naulia Dawai, Craig Millar, Paul Grant tries; Fletcher Smith 3 con, 3 pen)
Tasman 27 (Shane Christie, David Havili, Alex Nankivell tries; Marty Banks 3 con, 2 pen)