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The Otago Country Premier team has defended the Tri-Series Trophy. It claimed a pleasing 32-24 win over Southland Country at the Tuatapere Domain on Saturday.
The Otago Country side had a chalk-and-cheese start. It scored in the opening five minutes through rampaging flanker Sam Calder, but lost No8 Nemo Gent to a broken collarbone in the same passage of play.
Southland Country hit back with an intercept try to centre Jeremy McLeod soon after, which was converted.
Otago Country was made to pay for a poor clearance soon after when flanker Brenton Howden crossed to extend his side's lead. McLeod kicked the conversion.
Otago Country looked good with ball in hand, Jeremy McLeod was able to snaffle a second intercept try in the first half. That gave Southland Country a 19-5 lead largely against the run of play.
Once Otago Country knuckled down and kept the ball tight it made metres. From there, front-foot ball was earned and the backline enjoyed some quality ball.
The Otago side hit back, first through fullback Warwick Cheney then forwards Alex Grogan and Nick Egerton crossed before halftime to lead 24-19 at the break.
Winger Robin Fesilafai opened the scoring in the second half after a nice grubber kick in behind by first five-eighth Harley McHardy.
Ben Maxwell added a penalty off the tee to extend the lead to 32-19.
Otago Country was still in control but as changes were made, structure was lost and the game became more open.
Southland Country did not look like firing a shot in the second half and was out-passioned by its opposites.
It did, however, get the last say with a try to Sheamus McGuigan to narrow the gap.
Otago Country's forwards were challenged physically by a bigger Southland pack but they came out on top in the contact areas.
Hooker Brady Robertson had a strong game and locks Malcolm Sutherland and Alex Grogan were absolute beasts for the full 80 minutes.
The backs were led well by skipper Ben Maxwell who showed some nice touches.
Southland Country let itself down in the second half - its lineout struggled - but it was pressured into making simple errors by the tenacious Otago Country defence.
Hooker Ryan Carter and flanker Brenton Howden had strong games in the pack.
Second five-eighth Todd Wells was the best of the Southland Country backs.
Otago Country heads to Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin next week to take on North Otago in a curtain-raiser for Otago's Ranfurly Shield defence against Southland.
- Francis Parker