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Otago ambush Canterbury

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Friday, October 14, 2005    allblacks.com    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.

Scorers

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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