Keeping the ball in hand and not giving away soft tries: Derren Witcombe cannot amplify his message to his players in a simpler way.

Still celebrating an unforgettable win over Ranfurly Shield holders Taranaki last weekend, the Taniwha are ready to switch up another gear when they take on Otago in Dunedin this Friday.

Five points from three tough games against opposition from the Premiership is not a bad start for the Championship team and the key going forward is to show a resilience which has been AWOL for a while.

The team has the skills, fitness and players who can slug it out for 80 minutes against quality opposition. Players like the abrasive Tom Robinson and locking supremo Murray Douglas who proved last weekend they could both play on the blindside and add the mental muscle and drive the clinical work.


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Evergreen Rene Ranger and nippy Sam Nock drive the backline sting and the focus is on them when the game gets wider or there are fractured breakdowns.

They are often the links to continue a movement or the destructive counter-puncher at breakdowns where they are able to draw crucial defensive penalties.

Ranger brings many things to the arena. But the more relevant skill he brings is his selfless ability to play others into space, particularly his awareness and execution when there is a two on one.

The shift from wing to his preferred position of centre where he laid his hands on the ball a little bit earlier in the game worked wonders against Taranaki.

Northland halfback Sam Nock weighs his options during a scrum against Taranaki at Okara Park. Photo / John Stone
Northland halfback Sam Nock weighs his options during a scrum against Taranaki at Okara Park. Photo / John Stone

Witcombe reckons to get one across the line against Taranaki last weekend was good for his players' self belief after two losses.

"It was an emotional bloodyroller coaster but we were in the game. We were showing a lot of heart and guts and, with two points down, we were defending for about 20 minutes in our own 22.

"Once we got out of that, I had a feeling we could pull a good win off."


A short turnaround and the travel factor this week doesn't bother him, saying it was part of the job and that the Taniwha will prepare accordingly.

"It's only the fourth game. Hopefully we get another win. It will be similar to Sunday. Every game goes for 80 minutes so you've gotta play for 80 minutes. There may be a few adjustments but we've just got to concentrate on keeping the ball in hand and not giving away soft tries.

"They (Otago) play a lot of unstructured rugby, they've got a good young team, and they love to run the ball from pretty much anywhere so it's about limiting our mistakes on attack and just keep defending the way we did (last weekend)," Witcombe said.

No game is easy and Northland just needs to better its game from week to week, he says.

The head coach blamed a slip in concentration and communication breakdown against Auckland, particularly in the first 15 minutes of the second half when the visitors scored three tries, for their downfall.

"The boys have turned around because it wasn't our best work against Auckland but we've come back, we knew we could play better and it's good to see we can prove to ourselves that we can."


The Northland v Otago game at Forsyth Bar Stadium kicks off at 5.45pm.