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The first half was tightly-contested. Both sides found it hard to build pressure without giving the ball away. Neither could gain the upper hand andmost of the play was in the middle of the park. Both sides had chances to score.
Southland Country had a huge opportunity midway through the first half when Otago Country hooker Craig Stanway was in the sin-bin, but it could not find the final pass.
When Stanway returned, Southland Country lost halfback Willie Short to the naughty chair, but Otago Country could not capitalise either. The game was a scoreless stalemate heading towards the break, but Otago Country flanker Max Pennell crossed from close range after some good support play to put his side 5-0 up at the break. Neither side could get a foothold in the match.
The early stages of the second half were a carbon copy of the first. Neither side could gain advantage, and if either team held on to the ball for three phases it was doing well. Both sides traded penalties, Otago Country now ahead 8-3. Southland Country began to find some structure and string some phases together. It started to build pressure on Otago Country, whose discipline was starting to crack. The home side would attack the breakdown well and turn the ball over, but its clearance kicks lacked precision and direction. Too many times the ball would end up straight down the opposition’s throat, which allowed it to counterattack. Southland Country earned itself another penalty, which centre Jeremy McLeod slotted to further narrow the gap. Southland Country made wholesale changes midway through the second half, which added the energy required.
Its set-piece — which had struggled all day — was re-energised, and it built a solid platform. Continued pressure allowed Jeremy McLeod to kick a dropped goal from out in front to put his side in the lead. That was the way the game stayed.
Otago Country had one last attack, but just as it had done all game, failed to execute well.
Otago Country No8 Simon Grant had a strong game. He carried well and was solid on defence. Blindside Josh Brown defended very well, putting the pressure on at ruck time and making a good nuisance of himself. Openside Max Pennell was industrious and hard to put down with ball in hand. Angus Gibb in the midfield put in a solid 60 minutes. Southland Country loose forwards Scott McKee and Lochie McCall had strong games. They added the rugged edge their side needed and were standouts on both attack and defence. Fullback Shamus McGuigan and centre Jeremy McLeod were also strong.
Southland Country was a deserved winner of the Tri-Series Trophy, and will need to lose it to Canterbury Country for Otago Country to have another crack. Otago Country will be very disappointed. Its game plan was a good one, but was not effectively managed. The side’s discipline let it down and the decision-making needs to be better.
- Francis Parker