Rugby: Counties hand Otago third straight defeat

By Stephen Hepburn

Otago 14 Counties Manukau 16
Messiah Martin of Counties collects the ball from a lineout against Otago. Photo / photosport.nz
Messiah Martin of Counties collects the ball from a lineout against Otago. Photo / photosport.nz

There has been plenty of great games under the roof at Forsyth Barr Stadium since it opened five years ago.

This wasn't one of them.

Counties Manukau edged Otago 16-14 tonight in a mistake-riddled, defence-dominated match which never got out of first gear. Both teams tried hard - but effort goes only so far.

Execution has to be performed to a required standard. This is where the two teams let themselves down.

Counties looked as though their players had bathed in oil a minute before kick-off - so poor was the visiting team's ball security.

Otago lacked patience and too often chose the wrong option on attack. They also missed too many tackles, especially in the first half, although Counties Manukau are a team who do not lack in size. And under these trial laws, size definitely matters.

The scrums were a complete mess for much of the game and the Otago lineout has seen better days.

Both sides had plenty to play for in what was their penultimate match in the Mitre 10 Cup regular season so it was disappointing the performance could not have been better.

The Steelers are in a log jam in the Premiership chasing a playoff spot while Otago knew a win would seal a home semifinal in the Championship.

In the end, Counties won through an 80-th minute penalty from in front of the sticks by replacement Joe Reynolds. They led 10-7 at the break and did just enough to win. Counties first five-eighths Piers Francis missed three handy penalties which almost cost them.

Otago lacked spark, had little X-factor in their side and could not make many line breaks. But they hung in there and almost got home through tenacity.

Counties started the stronger and their big forwards were making the advantage line with ease. It did not take long for the first points to arrive with visiting skipper Jimmy Tupou going over under the bar after just six minutes.

But Otago came back into the contest through some good driving play by their forwards. It was none too pretty but got its reward when prop Craig Millar burrowed over in a sea of bodies to score. It rather summed up the match.

Otago 14 (C. Millar, N. Dawai tries; S. Eade 2 cons)
Counties Manukau 16 (J. Tupou try; P. Francis con, pen, J. Reynolds 2 pens).
Halftime 7-10.

- Otago Daily Times

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