Otago set themselves for a deserved break after three unbeaten games in a week were completed with a 33-32 win over a determined Bay of Plenty in Tauranga on Sunday.
Without a win in the competition to date, Bay of Plenty came within an ace of ending Otago’s unbeaten run in what was an absorbing contest under the law variations being trialed in the competition this season.
Otago’s crispness in its tactical execution among its outside backs was matched by a more direct confrontational style from Bay of Plenty but it made for an entertaining mix. That was exemplified in what proved the crucial play of the game at the 55-minute mark.
Otago struck from their own half in a superb display of inter-passing when nearly all the team appeared to handle. But it was two key hands played by hooker Liam Coltman and lock Tom Franklin, who drove the ball at crucial stages, that finally created the chance out wide where flanker Lee Allen ended with the try that gave Otago a 30-24 lead.
However, in a situation that typified the contest, Bay of Plenty struck back in the 67th minute after some impressive breakdown work which was boosted by sharp work from replacement halfback Luke Campbell who twice delayed his pass to feed players into gaps and eventually it was centre Lalaki Foketi who took the ball from lock Culum Retallick, as he went down in the tackle, to score his hat-trick try.
A 70th minute penalty goal by replacement first five-eighths Fletcher Smith spelled the difference between the sides but it was that earlier breakout by Otago that gave them their chance.
Former Southland first five-eighths Scott Eade created Otago’s first chance four minutes into the game when chipping over the defence allowing second five-eighths Teihorangi Walden to take the ball, and feed it out where fullback Michael Collins doubled around wing Mitchell Scott who passed for Collins to go over in the corner.
Some untidy play at the breakdown as the ball was kicked around was sorted by strong Bay of Plenty wing Regan Ware who swooped onto the ball at speed and broke infield before turning the ball back outside for Foketi to score wide out.
Scott scored his second try in the 14th minute after Eade slipped in inside pass to left wing Fa’asiu Fuata’i, who fed Walden and some deft passing allowed fullback Collins to feed the wing in.
But anything Eade could do for Otago then Kelly Haimona could do for Bay of Plenty as he put a chip into the goalmouth for Foketi to touch down in the 20th minute.
A 30th minute penalty kick to a five-metre lineout saw Otago No.8 Naulia Dawai slip off the back of the maul for a try.
However, in an almost tit-for-tat play four minutes later, flanker Jesse Parete ran around the front of the lineout and while there was some bobbled ball, prop Siegfried Fisi’ihoi was perfectly placed to secure the ball and drive low over the line for the try.
Bay of Plenty enjoyed a 24-19 lead at half-time, but that was whittled back firstly by an Eade dropped goal in the 45th minute and after he was substituted Fletcher Smith landed a penalty goal to reclaim the lead in the 51st minute.
BAY OF PLENTY – 32
Tries: Lalakai Foketi (7,20,65),Siegfried Fisiihoi(34)
Penalties: Kelly Haimona(12,59)
Cons: Kelly Haimona (8,20,35)
OTAGO – 33
Tries: Michael Collins (4),Mitchell Scott (14),Naulia Dawai (30),Lee Allan (55)
Penalties: Fletcher Smith (51,70)
Drops: Scott Eade (45)
Cons: Scott Eade (5,32)