Otago v North Harbour
Otago have got their 2014 ITM Cup Championship campaign of to the perfect start with a lively 28-14 win over a gallant North Harbour at Forsyth Barr Stadium.
The match, against last year’s second placed regular season finishers in the Championship Otago and the 2013 ‘wooden-spoon winners’ in Harbour, was played a high pace, so much so that the players were as the match closed out unable to maintain the rage.
Players struggling to their feet or seizing up with cramp was common as both unions came to the Deep South with an obvious goal to play the game all around the field.
The game began sadly with a moments silence to remember Kevin Barry, who passed away this morning.
Otago’s intent was obvious early, moving the ball around wide with plenty of enthusiasm, but North Harbour’s defence held up well in the early exchanges.
Host first five-eighth Hayden Parker would miss an early kick at goal but would make amends four minutes into the contest.
However it would be the tourists who would score first, with Tevita Li scoring out wide with captain Bryn Hall setting him up in the 14th minute.
The open nature of the game continued with the play moving from side to side and up the field, and the probing efforts of the home team’s backline paid off in spectacular fashion.
In the 21st minute Otago set the crowd alight with a brilliant try to Fa’asiu Fuatai, with the home team backline putting together a magic trick, switching play two or three times to scythe through the Harbour defence.
Harbour were having their moments but were not able to produce the closing moment, something that Otago was doing very well, illustrated when Fuatai scored his second try in the 29th minute, courtesy of an inside ball.
The blue and golds were terrorising the Harbour’s defence with switch plays and inside runners, clearly coach Tony Brown had instructed his team to play with the afterburners on.
James Parsons would score a critical try for the visitors at the end of the first half to make it a 20-14 game at halftime.
While the second half started well enough for Otago with an early penalty to Parker, the match panned out as neither side was able to penetrate each other’s defence in the middle period of the second half.
The high octane nature of the clash continued to take its toll in hot conditions, and it would be openside flanker James Lentjes that scored what would eventually be the match clincher, as the blue and gold attack – as they had all day – probed left and right and eventually outstretched Harbour’s defence.
Meanwhile the tourists were unable to add to their ledger in the second 40 minutes.
Both teams would clear their benches but neither side was able to register a bonus point, giving Otago the four competition points while Harbour will go away with nothing to show for their efforts.
The blue and golds play Counties next week in the first Ranfurly Shield challenge of the ITM Cup.
Tries: Fuatai (2), Lentjes
Cons: Parker (2)
Pens: Parker (2)
North Harbour 14
Tries: Li, Parsons