Friday, 15th August, 7:35pm
Ref: Kelvin Deaker
Half-time: Otago 6 - Auckland 3
Full-time: Otago 6 - Auckland 3
Man what an ugly game. I'm not sure why I bothered to watch it really, but I was excited to see some of the early NPC games and this one looked like it had the potential to be the match of the round. Let's bloody hope not!! Instead, cold damp slippery conditions and some obvious early season nerves (so many mistakes due to forced passes or aimless kicks from both sides) made for one of the most frustrating games I have watched in a long time. Not too surprisingly I was supporting Otago, and expected them to win pretty well, and given all the territory they had they bloody well should have. The Otago team dominated territory in the game (which was the best tactic given the conditions) but just couldn't crack the staunch Auckland defense or hold onto the ball when they did. It was a game where the forward packs on both teams played well but their respective backlines just couldn't do anything much right. Tony Brown had a shocking night, especially with his tactical kicking, and had one nightmare moment when he kicked the ball out near the end of the match expecting it to be the end of the game but instead play continued and Auckland managed to win their lineout and put together about 8 nerve-wracking phases before Otago could finally put an end to the game. Brown's opposite, Oreni Ai'i, didn't do any better though and showed again why he hasn't managed to hold down a starting position in any team since his rookie season. Ai'i just seems to play the same instinctive game regardless of the position on the park or the playing conditions. More often than not his aimless kicking, jinky running or forced passes just confused his own teammates or resulted in them turning the ball over. Willy 'Wonka' Walker kicked pretty well tactically but his usual radar goalkicking wasn't working this time, which didn't help the nerves much at all. While he kicked all 6 of Otago's points he missed 2 or 3 relatively easy penalties in the second half that could have extended the scoreline out past the 7 point mark. This was key as you always felt that if Otago could get ahead by more than 7 then they would secure the win because the only likelyhood of Auckland scoring late in the game was if they got an intercept try. Apart from both starting half-backs (Gibson and Lee), who both had good games, the only other backs that impressed me were Brent Ward, who defended brilliantly at the back for Auckland, Sam Tuitupo, who defended well and had one great attacking run, and Aisea Tuilevu for Otago, who had a very solid game. As I said both forward packs performed pretty well, the lineouts were good for both sides, esp. Otago, and both loose forward trios played themselves to a standstill. It wouldn't surprise me if Oliver and Maling played their way into the RWC squad on the basis of this match, their lineout game was excellent and their general play up to the usual high standard. Hopefully this match wasn't any indication of the quality of the rest of the matches this weekend, esp the test match tonight. One thing is for sure I don't think Otago or Auckland will have been happy with their performance, and they certainly don't look like the two favourite sides in the tournament. In particular I can't see this Auckland squad doing the business like so many of their fans thing they will, apart from their excellent loose forward trio and Sam Tuitupo they just have too many inexperienced or inconsistant players in their starting squad. Time will tell I guess. Now who do I see about getting that 90mins of my life back... I can't end without mentioning Shane Howarth, Mr Granny-Gate himself, who is obvious home from the UK and somehow managed to convince SKY to let him into the commentary box. I think that maybe they should restrict his commentary to only be heard by Auckland supporters because his bias certainly wasn't helping my enjoyment of the game. In fact if I had only had his commentary to go by then I would have expected that Auckland were all over Otago for much of the game and it was only a matter of time in the second half before Auckland ran in 12 unanswered tries and racked up the huge winning margin that their dominance so obviously deserved. Sheesh, what a dork...