At the back of 6 wins on the trot and an unbeaten season thus far, the men from Auckland had their eyes set on another scalp. However it was a Matt Faddes hat trick and a good defensive effort that saw the South Islanders claim their second victory at Eden Park since 1976.
For many who might not be aware 1976 was the inception of the National Provincial championships, and that goes to show the amount of strength that Auckland have possessed at Eden Park. They came up against an equally good and respectable side in Otago. While results have not always gone their way in the opening rounds, with a 50% win ratio, they have been one of the season favourites.
Otago managed to show why as they managed to get themselves on the scoreboard as early as the second minute through a Vilimoni Koroi breakaway try. The try came at the back of some exceptional play by Auckland but it was their inability to secure at the breakdown which led to the South Islanders pouncing on the ball and Koroi ran a good 50 metres to score without being touched, Josh Ioane added the extras with an easy conversion to lead 7-0.
A deliberate knockdown by Michael Collins in the 5th minute allowed Auckland back in the game and they did well to exploit the opportunity. First through Tumua Manu in the 11th and Dalton Papali’I. The latter’s try was influenced by a good read by 19 year old and for England U20 star, Jacob Umaga. Nephew to All Black legend, Tana Umaga, the youngster did well to spot space out wide and with a lobbed pass Papali’i went over unscathed. In between the two tries they was a break in play as Joe Ravouvou and Faatiga Lemalu came on for Tanielu Tele’a and Jack Whetton respectively. This was after both players took knocks in 12th minute.
It was not until the 22nd minute, and after conceding 14 points, did Otago trouble the score again. Both side had been showing great promise on attack and any team could’ve score, but it was a Jona Nareki try that brought the Dunedin based side within two points. Having clutched the ball at the back of a lineout, Otago were tackled just short of the try line. The ball was the quickly shifted and it was Faddes who did well to find space out wide and floated a pass over two players for Nareki to score in the corner. The conversion was missed.
Hot stepper Salesi Rayasi showed much of his basketball skills as he beat a couple of defenders Tumua Manu for his brace. Harry Plummer couldn’t convert the try in the 28th minute even though Auckland led 19-12. However an even more impressing sniping run by Melani Matavo, who until just before half time was the pick of the scrumhalves, saw Otago just 5 metres short of the try. Faddes saw a gap and with a mismatch out wide crossed over for the try. Another failed conversion meant that Otago would still need to fight on. Otago had the opportunity to go up before half time but instead decided to take a quick tap right in front of the uprights which led to a knock on.
While there was less action in the second half there were some key moments in the game that stroked the game back in the favour of Otago. Matt Faddes completed his hat trick of tries, with tries in the 48th and the 64th minute. The outside centre managed to spot an opening around the fringes for his first and he did well to exploit the gap. The second was off a brilliantly weighted chip kick by Josh Ioane with Faddes showing great determination to recover and to breeze through.
In no time Auckland found themselves behind 31-19 and it was the raging Akira Ioane with a pickup at the back of the scrum in the 72nd that would give them a sniff. Harry Plummer converted the try quickly and Auckland looked set to close off strongly. It was not to be as Otago held on even though they nearly lost it in the dying minutes.
Otago will be breathing a lot easier after that victory tonight. This is after they were dealt an undeserved 47-25 thumping against a well drilled Canterbury side at home last week. Tonight was also a huge statement to the rest of their opponents. They managed to beat a side which came into this game unbeaten and also a side that they had only beat once since the inception of the National Provisional Championship in 1976.