Otago Country holds on to win thriller

The Otago Country premiers have come away from Oamaru with a tight 43-42 win over North Otago Development  after  an exciting game.

The Country side dominated the opening half in Oamaru on Saturday. Its lineout was near perfect and its scrums set a solid platform. That allowed it to play in the right areas of the field, mount promising attacks and score some very slick tries. The Country side stuck to its game plan, perfected its structure and gave North Otago nothing to build on. It went into halftime 33-10 up with the game in the palm of its hands.

But in the second half,  Otago Country  allowed its opposition back into the game. It gave away a staggering  number  of penalties which kept  it on the back foot for most of the  spell. North Otago  played a wide and expansive style when in possession and thrived in open space. Country lost second five-eighth Angus Gibb to the naughty chair for consistent infringing, and North Otago seized the opportunity.  It scored 17 unanswered points while Gibb was in the sinbin and looked  as if it had the legs to overtake the first-half lead the Country side amassed. But Country had limited territory and possession but managed to score two second half tries which kept it in the lead until the end.

Country got a huge wake-up call. Perhaps some mental complacency leaked in with such a commanding lead at halftime, and it  strayed from the game plan which had worked so well in the first spell.

Having said that, Country showed great ticker to hold North Otago out.

"The first  30  minutes was the best  30 I’ve seen a Country side play in a long time," Country coach Fraser Fletcher said.

He added such a "diamonds-and-rocks performance" will benefit the side for its match against Canterbury Country in Balclutha next weekend. There were plenty of standout players for the Otago Country side. Captain Tim O’Neill led from the front. His set piece was sound and he scored a brilliant 40m individual try. Lock Kerrod Baldwin also had a strong game. He covered plenty of ground and got through a mountain of defensive work. Young No 8 Ollie McLelland showed he has a big future, and first five-eight Brodie Flannery  marshalled his troops well and used his powerful boot to turn the opposition around regularly. Patrick Clegg added impact from the bench. North Otago pivot Tyler Burgess had a strong game. Fullback Hamish Slater’s boot kept the home side in the game.

- Francis Parker

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