Hawke's Bay 21
Composure under fire enabled Hawke's Bay to squeeze home in Napier last night and pick up points that could be vital in keeping them in the Premiership.
In a game that never found itself, the Magpies started to squeeze in the final quarter,
exerting enough pressure to earn late penalties that saw them get ahead for the first time.
Ultimately it was about their ability to perform under pressure better that won it for them. It was also about their excellent defence in the final minutes.
Otago came mighty close to winning the game on the buzzer when they built a sustained
attack that saw them reach the Hawke's Bay tryline without quite being able to smash over.
Hawke's Bay held the ball for longer periods when it mattered and probably played a fraction more rugby. Their patience invoked indiscipline from Otago and the opportunity for goals to be kicked.
At 15-all coming into the final quarter, Hawke's Bay lifted that little bit: made their passes stick, ran better angles and cleaned out harder.
That was the difference in a scrappy game.
It was yet another game where the pace was frenetic and the game almost impossible to
get a handle on. So much of the action was around the tackled ball where neither team was particularly adept at protecting or recycling.
There were prolonged periods of play between the two 10 metre lines as possession was
lost at the first contact. The reasons were multiple: ball carriers were loose heading into
the collision; support players were slow to get there; opposition loose forwards were left
unopposed or the referee would intervene and award a penalty.
Neither side was able to build any real flow or momentum as a result of their difficulties in holding onto the ball and building the pressure.
The first half essentially became a goal-kicking duel with Hawke's Bay shading that four
penalties to three and the only other incident of note was a Glenn Dickson effort down the right wing that probably should have led to a try.
Andrew Horrell took an age to make the hit and in the end was only able to scrag the Otago second-five, but it was just enough to force a foot into touch.
If it had been Buxton Popoali'i instead of Dickson on the charge, the try would almost
certainly have been scored. The diminutive Otago wing was the star of the show - using what few chances he had to show his incredible ability to step and accelerate.
If he can remain as elusive at Super Rugby, he'll be of interest: certainly capable of lighting up any game. Gillies Kaka on the opposite side and on the opposite wing,
looked full of promise, too. A rangy athlete with a touch of instinctive, creativity about him, he's a player who could look the business if given the chance at the next level.
Hawke's Bay 21 (A. Horrell 5 pens; I. West 2 pens) Otago 15 (H. Parker