Whalers secure Auckland trip

Southland Ram Korey Pennicott passes the ball under pressure from Otago Whaler Louis Till during...
Southland Ram Korey Pennicott passes the ball under pressure from Otago Whaler Louis Till during their South Island Championship match at the Oval in Dunedin on Saturday.PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
The Otago Whalers managed to hold off the Southland Rams in the last round of the South Island Championship on Saturday.

The 38-22 victory secured the South Island Championship for the Whalers and sets up a trip to Auckland to play the winner of the North Island Championship.

The Whalers opened the scoring early, as a midfield bomb from Louis Titi was collected by fullback Tayla Hazlett who stepped three defenders to score.

Both sides were outstanding on defence and completed a high percentage of their sets, and the game truly felt like a final with its intensity.

The Whalers managed to control the game the better and adjusted to the windy conditions. Southland, on the other hand, struggled, putting three restarts out on the full gifting the Whalers territory.

The Whalers capitalised on the free territory in the Rams half, with Cameron Brown breaking through the defence for a try under the posts.

Willie Time was a standout with the ball in hand. Multiple line breaks from the centre had the Rams under the pump and at times he looked unstoppable.

Southland gained some momentum before the break and managed to get two quick tries. That meant the Whalers were just up at halftime, 24-18.

The start of the second half did not go to plan for the Whalers, the restart kick-off going out on the full, putting Southland in great attacking territory. But the Otago side's defence was up for the challenge. Some outstanding efforts on the Whalers' goal-line kept the Rams out of some prime opportunities.

A converted try put the Whalers ahead 30-18 early in the second half. The Rams threw everything at the Whalers on attack, and looked promising but could not convert their possession into points.

The Whalers kept marching up the field and completing their sets.

Louis Titi was quick to think on his feet on the last tackle. Southland players rushed off their goal line to pressure the kicker. From 15m in front of the posts, Titi nudged over a field goal that bounced off the left upright and over to put the Whalers ahead 31-18.

Another try soon after pushed the lead out 37-18, but the Whalers still were not comfortable knowing they had to win by at least 11 points.

A try to Southland made for an intense final 10 minutes. The Whalers held despite a barrage of Southland attacks and a crucial intercept by Cameron Todd got the Otago side out of jail and relieved some pressure.

Titi converted another field goal to push the Whalers' lead out to 16 and meant Southland would need a converted try to secure the top spot in the championship.

But, it was not to be for Southland as the Whalers held on to win the game by 16 points and the South Island Championship by points difference.

The Whalers' next game will be in Auckland against the winner of the North Island Championship on October 5. The match will be televised live on Sky Sports.

 - Liam O'Brien

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