Average season but glimmer of improvement

Otago fullback Glenn Dickson (left) goes on the charge against Canterbury at Forsyth Barr Stadium...
Otago fullback Glenn Dickson (left) goes on the charge against Canterbury at Forsyth Barr Stadium at the weekend. Tony Brown is in support, while Canterbury midfielder Ryan Crotty is too late to make the tackle. Photo by Craig Baxter.
Average. In a way, that word sums up Otago's season.

Sometimes average can be seen as bad. Sometimes it can be seen as good. But really, doesn't it mean somewhere in the middle?And that was what Otago's season was. Not great but not poor either.

Otago won half of its 10 games.

It scored 223 points, and conceded 224. It never really lost heavily, yet never won handsomely either.

But is average good enough?The Highlanders won half of their games this season and they were declared a success. And Otago was a lot better than last year when it finished dead last and won just two games.

So yes, the side did make progress, but for many it was not far enough.

There were some encouraging signs but still too many mistakes.

Co-coach Andy Hunter said after one game it was a case of two steps forward and then one back.

That rather summed up Otago's season.

A player would put together a good piece of work. But within five minutes that same player would drop the ball, or slide off a tackle.

Against Manawatu the ball was dropped four times by Otago players in the first 10 minutes of the second half. Yet within the next 10 minutes the side scored three tries.

That was what was so frustrating about Otago. It was inconsistent throughout and could never put together a solid 80 minutes.

Perhaps this is just a reflection of domestic rugby in New Zealand these days. Players are not of a high enough standard to consistently play well.

The season started so well for Otago with wins over North Harbour and the historic victory over Auckland.

But a loss to Hawkes Bay on a bog in Napier upset the momentum and a close defeat to Northland turned out to be costly.

That game included the knocking out of captain Eben Joubert from the competition through injury, and his attitude and commitment were greatly missed.

The defeat to Southland was the low point of the season and after that the side was always looking unlikely to make the final.

To beat Manawatu in the last game of the season was a fine way to end the season and it was good to see the likes of South Otago men Paul Grant and Adam Hill playing well.

There was competition for places in most positions although a clear XV emerged near the end of the season.

Ben Smith was a class act wherever he played although he showed the effects of a long year.

Buxton Popoali'i summed up Otago. He was electric and always went round the first man.

But he could also throw in the odd shocking moment and most of his chip kicks came to nothing.

Centre Ben Atiga was steady, although his best days appear behind him. Glenn Dickson improved from last year and his goal kicking could not be faulted.

Tony Brown showed his class and the value of the brain being quicker than the legs. He did the fundamentals correctly. Hayden Parker is green and needs to make a big step next year if he wants to play at this level.

Halfback Sean Romans did the basics well but took too many steps before passing the ball and should have threatened more on attack.

The loose forwards never played badly with Gareth Evans an exciting prospect and Adam Hill looking comfortable at this level. The jury is still out on Grant, while Regan Tamihere is a solid grafter.

The tight five was always solid with Kees Meeuws holding up one end of a scrum. Liam Coltman looks an exciting prospect if he can get his lineout throwing worked out properly.

As for who will coach the side next year, the now-familiar review will decide that.

But Phil Mooney is living on borrowed time. Never a fan of the winter weather in Dunedin, Mooney has been a hit with the players but has not found favour with those above him.

His contract is up and it seems unlikely it will be renewed.



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