Otago ambush Canterbury


Friday, October 14, 2005    Photosport

Eight tries were scored in the frenetic contest. But it was three Otago tries in the space of eight minutes that sealed the memorable win - Otago’s second over their southern rivals in less than a fortnight.

Among many star turns, lock Tom Donnelly and halfback Chris Smylie were outstanding performers for the victors.

Earlier, Canterbury started their ninth Air New Zealand NPC semifinal with supreme confidence – four searching phases drilling them to within 15m of the Otago line. Yet despite forcing more tackles than a Sevens tournament, the locals came away empty-handed.

And when points did come, they belonged to Otago. A stunning try by form halfback Smylie delivering the confidence-booster his team were looking for: collecting a Caleb Ralph chip in the 7th minute, Smylie wrong-footed the Canterbury pack in its entirety before backing himself the remaining 33m to dot down inside the right-hand corner flag.

First-five Nick Evans converted. Barely on the board in the territory stakes, Otago led 7-0.

Playing with a strong north-easterly at their backs, they were unlucky not to extend that lead as Evans skewed a 16th minute penalty attempt and then Otago prop Chris King crashed down millimetres short of the line as the visitors piled on ten phases... a period of play that ended with Evans landing a penalty in the 30th minute.

After a high-shot on Canterbury centre Casey Laulala, No 10 Dan Carter slotted Canterbury’s first points of the match as the half drew to a close.

Halftime score: 10-3 Otago

Contesting every lineout and pressuring the homeside’s scrum, Otago came close to scoring under the bar in the 45th minute only for ever-present Canterbury fullback Ben Blair to save the day.

Flanker Josh Blackie stretched over the line next... crucially, the TMO ruled the ball had been lost forward. Instead, after a disastrous attempt to run themselves out of trouble, Otago had to watch Blair not save a try but score one. Carter converted from the sideline to draw the teams level at 10-10 before Evans replied with his second penalty.

The fresh lead was short-lived as another Otago blunder (failing to find touch) allowed Canterbury to send the ball wide where wing Scott Hamilton’s 58th minute grubber kick bounced off the defence and No 7 Richie McCaw pounced.

15-13 now. Canterbury in front for the first time in the match.

Then came the surge that would propel Otago into the Air New Zealand NPC Final: Ben Blair charged down by lock Tom Donnelly and a huge pass from flanker to flanker - Blackie to his captain Craig Newby - putting Newby over. Fullback Craig Clare was in next after a half-break from No 12 Seilala Mapusua freed wing Matt Saunders from the restart.

23-15 Otago.

Smylie’s second five pointer - this one blindside - in the 69th minute appeared to seal the champions' fate. Yet the scoreboard continued to burn-up with tries as Canterbury’s Hamilton replied in kind: 30-22 Otago.

Denied earlier, Josh Blackie finally finished the job and secured an exhilirating Otago win as a massive Mapusua hit put an end to Canterbury's attempts to play catch-up football. No 10 Evans was the man there to collect the knock-on and skilfully feed Newby for his team’s fifth try.

Final score: 37-22 Otago.


Otago. Tries: Chris Smylie (2), Craig Newby, Craig Clare, Josh Blackie. Conversions: Nick Evans (3). Penalties: Evans (2).

Canterbury. Tries: Ben Blair, Richie McCaw, Scott Hamilton. Conversions: Dan Carter (2). Penalties: Carter.

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