After trailing at halftime Otago surged back to take out Southland 40-17 in Mitre 10 Cup Championship action in Invercargill.
Last year Otago romped home over their old rivals 61-7, but it soon became clear the margin wouldn’t be repeated as Southland gained control early in the match.
Dead eye first five-eighth Wharenui Harewa landed four penalty shots in the opening half – including two from over 50 metres out – to give Southland a 12-0 lead before Otago struck in the closing stages of the half.
Otago captain Liam Coltman’s gamble not to take a shot at goal paid off when flanker Dillon Hunt went over from a well-worked move from the lineout to close out the half.
Behind 12-5 at halftime, Hunt’s try was all the momentum Otago needed as they swiftly took the game away from the home side. With Highlanders Aki Seiuli, James Lentjes and Fletcher Smith joining the fray, Otago crossed for four second half tries to secure a comfortable victory.
In the first half, Otago’s finishing let them down but they were more clinical in the second forty as the sheer weight of possession took its toll on Southland.
Classy second five-eighth Tei Walden crossed for a well taken double while electric right wing Fa’asiu Fuatai’i set up Michael Collins to score and replacement halfback Josh Walden pounced to put the icing on the cake.
Southland had a memorable moment of their own in the second half when wing Jaye Thompson laid on an acrobatic finish to give Southland hope.
Replacement first five-eighth Fletcher Smith also struck three consecutive penalties in the second half to snuff out any chance of Southland coming back into the game.
A bonus point victory was the best possible start for Otago considering their arduous start to the Mitre 10 Cup season which includes four games in fourteen days.
Captain Liam Coltman said: “The boys pulled it together in the second half and did the basics well. Everyone who came off the bench added something today and that’s what helped us to the win.”
Southland 17 (Jaye Thompson try, Wharenui Hawera 4 pen)
Otago 40 (Dillon Hunt, Tei Walden 2, Michael Collins, Josh Walden tries, Fletcher Smith 3 con, 3 pen)