Otago show promise in loss to Canterbury

There is a lot to work with. And there is a lot to work on.

That best sums up Otago’s final preseason hit out at Forsyth Barr Stadium today.

Canterbury finished over the top of the home team to win 34-31.

Winger Wil Gualter scored three sharp tries for the visitors and fellow outside back Blair Murray slipped over in the final minute to seal victory.

But for 40 minutes Otago played some sparkling rugby and led 26-10 at the break.

If it can put more stretches like that together it will win a lot of games in the NPC this year.

Otago coach Tom Donnelly was thrilled with the way the opening half went.

“I’m really happy. Obviously we are disappointed with the score in the end but I thought we had a really good first half,” he said.

“Some of those young guys got a bit of a lesson in the second half on what it takes to close out a game, but it was pretty positive all round.”

Centre Josh Timu seemed to be only centimetres away from the action when he was not right in the thick of it. His workload was quite outstanding. He even managed to set up a try for himself.

Timu stepped a defender, who had rushed up following a clearance kick, and set off towards the corner.

Canterbury scrambled but Timu popped up near the ruck a few phases later and barged over like a loose forward.

Lock Will Tucker helped set up the next. He ripped the ball free in midfield and Otago swung from defence to attack.

Impressive blindside Oliver Haig got on the end of a short pass and burst into the clear. He got the ball away to fullback Sam Gilbert who in turn found Jona Nareki.

Nareki has spent the best part of the last year sidelined with a knee injury and produced some brilliant touches in his second game back.

He drew the last defender and Haig was in support to take the pass and score. The young man made a try-saving tackle later in the game, was an asset in the lineout and excellent value.

Otago added another through prop Abraham Pole. He crashed over after Otago’s initial lineout drive was repelled.

The home team finished the half with Nareki coming up with an athletic finish in the corner after another wonderful build-up.

It was almost the perfect 40 minutes with a couple of exceptions. Otago looked vulnerable on its right wing and Canterbury made several promising runs down that flank.

The home team did not number up early and Gualter won the race to the corner flag to score against a defence playing catch-up.

He bagged his second with a lovely chip and a dexterous fingertip regather in the in-goal area.

Donnelly made a host of changes during the second spell and the home team lost momentum and, more importantly, its structure.

The defence, which for the most part had been solid other than on the right edge, looked awfully thin all of a sudden.

Lock Fabian Holland reached out a long arm to extend the lead to 31-10.

But that was most definitely as good as it got for Otago.

Gualter grabbed his third and Canterbury’s pack went to work, securing a penalty try and hooker George Bell crashed over from close range.

It was disappointing the game slipped away but Otago looked good ahead of its opening NPC game against Counties Manukau in Auckland on Saturday.

The scores

Canterbury 34: Wil Gualter 3, George Bell, Blair Murray tries; penalty try, Alex Hartford con. Otago 31: Josh Timu, Oliver Haig, Abraham Pole, Jona Nareki, Fabian Holland tries; Cameron Millar 3 con. Halftime: 26-10 Otago.


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