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Shield games are funny things. If you look at all of the great Otago teams to have tried and failed to win the coveted log of wood over the years, there was little in this team that would make you think that this one would be any different. But a bit of motivation and a ruthless attitude can do wonders and in the end was what got this team over the line. They just kept getting back up, kept on fighting and kept grafting right until the very end.
The defence was strong all night and in the end was the major telling factor. Otago were forced to make 158 tackles, which is a phenomenal number.
The forwards were looking for tackles to make, going into contact aggressively and coming up fast to ensure the dangerous Waikato backline had little room to work with. When the forwards were doing this, it was so much easier for the backs to do their job, containing their opposition and letting little through, especially in the second half where they were rock solid.
Nine breakdown turnovers, and at crucial times, were pivotal in the winning of the game. Both tries came as a result of turnovers effected by Gareth Evans and TJ Ioane, while another Evans turnover got Otago out of a spot where the team was under immense pressure on their own line. Evans really was the star of the show in this area, but credit must also go to Ioane, Lee Allan and Liam Coltman, who did their bit at the ruck too.
The lineout functioned well, with only one throw going astray all night. This gave the Otago backs some ball to work with and operated as their main source of possession. In Gareth Evans, Tom Franklin and Tom Donnelly Otago had three very good jumpers, while Liam Coltman showed that his throwing has improved immensely since last year.
Winning your set-piece is fundamental to winning the game, as particularly in a game like this, there are few other chances to obtain possession.
Accurate Goal Kicking
Hayden Parker was sublime under pressure, making all of his kicks, many of which were from wide out. Had he not done this, it would have been a very different game, especially if the gap had have been three points of less in the final stages. Rugby is a game of chances, and you would have to say Otago took all of their scoring ones in this game.
The Loose Forwards
The breakdown turnovers, the strong defence, the ruthless attitude, so much of it came from the loose forwards. They were like terriers around the field, with Gareth Evans and Lee Allan seemingly everywhere, making tackle after tackle and shutting down the Waikato backline and preventing them from offloading in contact.
Paul Grant grew into his role as the game progressed and was the most physical of the three, while also being the most prominent ball runner. But you can't go past the performance of TJ Ioane, who was immense off the bench, brutal in everything he did and making some huge plays.