Dwyer's take: Southern pack may hold key

Southern prop Mike Mata’afa hits the ball up during a premier grade game against Dunedin at...
Southern prop Mike Mata’afa hits the ball up during a premier grade game against Dunedin at Bathgate Park in May. PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON
The wrap

We started with nine and now we are two and it’s finals time at Bathgate Park, with defending champions Southern taking on near neighbours Dunedin for the Speight’s Championship Shield. The top qualifiers, Kaik and Southern, were unceremoniously dumped by the bottom two qualifiers to emphasise how close this comp has been.

Southern went out to the Eelpit where Taieri are seldom beaten and got up with a try in 80th minute to give themselves a chance of going back to back. The Magpies led 21-8 at the break but Taieri stormed back into to lead 23-21 with the clock winding down. There were a couple of crucial late turnovers and Southern pounced to win the right to defend the shield at home.

Up on the High Veldt Dunedin careered out to an early 13-point lead over Kaik and looked very good. Kaik eased their way into the game and scored three unanswered tries in the last 20 minutes of the spell to have a six-point lead at the break and the Sharks were looking longshots. But nobody told the Dunedin pack who hid the ball from Kaik in the second spell, continually drove up the middle and the tries came and Kaik’s season was done.


The oil

Southern have had the wood on the Sharks this year with two wins in three games, one of them being a complete dismantling. Their big strong pack is the only one in town which has stayed with Dunedin in the physical encounters at scrum and ruck time. If they do the same tomorrow that could totally derail the Sharks game plan and they will win the game comfortably.

Unfortunately both sides best players are unavailable because they are playing for Otago this afternoon. Southern captain and blindside Harry Taylor is gone and Rowan Wingham, the powerful Dunedin tighthead, won’t be sighted either. How the teams recover from this will go a long way to determining the outcome. Mackenzie Haugh, the mercurial Southern fullback, set up the winning try in the final last year against Taieri, and he could well be the difference in tomorrow’s game. If the Sharks give him time and space they might need an abacus!

The Sharks pack need to take control of the tight exchanges to win this game. Their scrum and driving lineout need to be weapons and their backline ‘‘d’’ needs to be rock solid. This is Southern’s game to lose but they’ll need to get their outsides into the game off the back of their bruising ball runners in Mafi and Toleafoa.


Grade finals

In the prem colts final the Dunedin Mako take on Kaik at the Sandpit. The Makos have been unbeaten for a couple of seasons and have dominated the finals for the last few years. It has been Dunedin and Kaik in the finals for the last three years and there is nothing in these games. It will be a great watch and a fascinating encounter which the Sharks should win but there won’t be a lot in it. In the P2s comp front-runners Kaik take on Taieri and it’s hard to pick a winner. ‘‘Big Crawf’’ the Kaik coach has been trying for seven or eight years to win this thing and he’s overdue but they continue to fall at the final hurdle. They have lost to Taieri in both games this year so don’t go in as big favourites, so this might be the year the ‘‘chokers’’ tag disappears. Kaik wins. In the seniors grade Kaik are at home to GI and are overwhelming favourites and to ensure they go close to the Ainge Trophy they need to justify it. Kaik win.


Otago v Southland

Apparently it’s on today at 2pm at Kettle Park so get along if you’ve got a spare half hour. It’s Otago’s only real hitout before the NPC kicks off next weekend. On a slightly grumpier note, Otago have gone outside the province to contract a player for the season after I was thinking finally a totally homegrown side. I can understand the loosie Tom Sanders has already been signed by the Landers for next season out of Japan (ex Crusaders and Chiefs) so it possibly makes sense to sign him as injury cover for Otago, especially for Ollie Haig. But does it put bums on seats? No. There are plenty of great young loosies plying their trade in Dunedin who would bust a gut for an opportunity — just saying.


Did they need to play?

So King’s and Otago Boys’ old boys decided to play a game the other day at the Pony Pit. I guessed the age range was late 30s to late 40s with varying levels of fitness. A disaster waiting to happen, right? The answer was a resounding yes! At last count two blown knees, one broken arm and one broken leg and a lot of wounded pride. Throw in a sending off by a prominent local and I bet the lads will be wondering if it was all worth it. Perhaps a rethink of strategy for next year — touch, perhaps?


Down on the farm

Just when you thought it was over ... no, they are still playing in South and Central Otago with the Topp Cup being played this weekend in Alexandra. This is normally played in the middle of the year but the Otago Country ‘‘boffins’’ in their wisdom have moved it to now. This will be the final trial to pick the Otago Country team. Let’s be honest, they’ve probably already picked it. South Otago take on Central Otago. I’m putting a lazy tenner on the draw.