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The Otago Whalers withstood a strong second half fightback to beat the Southland Rams 26-22 in the opening round of the South Island Premiership.
A dominant first half display from the Whalers featured strong ball running from the front row forwards, co-ordinated attacking efforts from edge forwards, and a skilful kicking exhibition from halfback Louis Tili.
Tili put the Rams back three under immense pressure, sending several kicks skyward and challenging the opposition’s ability to defend against the high ball. One of his towering tactical kicks was able to find the ground between defenders and a strong chase from Jalan Wallace and Jong Hoon Lee ensured the rebounding ball landed safely in Lee’s hands and he scored in the corner. Another of his kicks split the defence and popped up for his halves partner, Owen Draper, who scored under the posts.
Tili’s efforts were supported by man-of-the-match Josh McKenzie, whose defensive work and ability to find a gap when attacking on the right edge were crucial to the Whalers’ cause.
McKenzie’s impressive debut game for Otago, against his home province, contained 32 tackles and nine carries. Lock Hagan Free’s immense work rate on both sides of the ball was also essential; he racked up the most tackles (38) and carries (13) for his side.
The 14-6 lead the Whalers had going into the halftime break proved to be critical, as a resilient Rams revival took place in the second half of the contest. Ill-discipline hampered the Otago side’s second half performance and it was on the wrong side of a lopsided penalty count, conceding 12 penalties in the half and ending the match with twice as many as the home teams.
Co-captain Dylan Lovett and hooker Daniel Low took advantage of the Whalers’ disciplinary woes. Low scored the last try in the dying stages of the contest through some quick thinking and footwork in a dummy half snipe near the tryline.
Whalers coach David Reedy was relatively pleased with his side’s performance.
"It took a while for combinations to get going on both defence and attack. I was also disappointed in our discipline, which almost cost us the match and is a major area that needs to be addressed," he said.
Reedy said having the bye this week would allow the players to iron out mistakes and put forward a more convincing performance in their next game, against the West Coast.
- Ricki Allan
Whalers v Rams
Otago Whalers 26
Jong Hoon Lee, Owen Draper, Marcel Taani, Apii Taia, Willie Time tries; Louis Tili 3 goals
Southland Rams 22
Silvanus Raimona, Ramera Chambers, Tuki Hiko, Daniel Low tries; Sam Taukiri con