WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 31, 2016
Otago have secured maximum points for the third straight game but not without a fight against a never-say-die Northland side in Dunedin.
After comfortably dispatching Southland and Wellington in the opening two rounds, you would have been forgiven for picking the same result against a Northland side that hasn’t won a match in the national provincial championship since 2014. But the result was far from clear, even until the dying seconds, as Northland kept coming at Otago.
It looked like Northland were in for a long night when dynamic loose forward Naulia Dawai pounced on a misplaced kick from first five-eighth Fletcher Smith and broke two tackles to make it 5-0 after just five minutes.
But this Northland side is a more resilient model to the 2015 side which conceded 54 points against Otago and fought their way back. With former Otago pivot Peter Breen playing the general, Northland took points when on offer from the tee and scored a great opportunist try to number eight Matt Matich to make it 11-11 after 30 minutes. In a dagger blow to Northland, Otago scored on the stroke of halftime through wing Jack Wilson to stretch their lead to 19-11.
Peter Breen was in on the action early in the second half when a great pop ball put the Taniwha on attack before some great work at the breakdown led to a try by hard running lock Shane Neville.
Otago struck back instantly with Wilson grabbing a double but they just couldn’t shake Northland. With flanker Kara Pryor leading the defensive effort, Otago couldn’t rack up the points like they did against Southland and Wellington and a Peter Breen penalty brought Northland closer.
With the score at 26-21 with 15 minutes to play, Otago upped the urgency and scored when impressive lock Tom Franklin put on a couple of nice touches to help put Matt Faddes over.
As was the theme of the night, Northland wouldn’t give up and scored a late try when wing Jone Macilai went over from a long Breen skip pass. The Taniwha had one last chance to snatch the unlikely win but couldn’t breach the stern Otago defence.
The result has put Otago clear at the top of the Championship ladder with Manawatu five points back in second place. Northland picked up their third bonus point of the season to leap frog Southland and Bay of Plenty at the tail of the ladder.
Otago captain Paul Grant said: “We had to dig it in at the end, it was a good 80 minute performance with both teams running it. It’s been a big couple of weeks for us so now we have to front on Sunday.”
Otago 33 (Naulia Dawai, Jack Wilson 2, Matt Faddes tries, Fletcher Smith 2 pen, 2 con, Scott Eade con)
Northland 28 (Matt Matich, Shane Neville, Jone Macilai tries, Peter Breen 3 pen, 2 con)