Otago defends shield - although not without some alarm

 

At least the Shield is safe.

There may have been a few fleeting thoughts of an upset around the 50-minute mark though.

Otago put on a patchy display to defend the Ranfurly Shield in Wanaka on Saturday.

Its 41-21 win over Thames Valley was its first successful Shield defence since 1957.

But it was not the cakewalk most expected.

Thames Valley led until the 52nd minute and held the score to 26-16 with eight minutes to play.

Otago finished strongly, but was very much flattered by the final score.

Otago flanker James Lentjes scores early in the second half during Saturday's Ranfurly Shield...
Otago flanker James Lentjes scores early in the second half during Saturday's Ranfurly Shield defence against Thames Valley in Wanaka. PHOTO: KERRIE WATERWORTH

Mistakes were rife as Otago looked to use the ball and find space.

Bad hands, poor passing and a lack of ball security in contact prevented it from threatening.

Consequently it struggled to string more than two or three phases together during the first half.

Thames Valley first five-eighth Reece Broughton controlled the game well and kicked effectively.

He gave the challengers an early lead, slotting a kick from a scrum penalty after a break up the right left Otago scrambling.

That soon became 6-0, as Otago continued to spill whatever ball it had.

A dropped high ball from fullback Taylor Haugh on halfway resulted in a kick through and scramble back to keep the visitors out.

However, off the ensuing scrum right winger Harry Lafituanai touched down under the posts 25 minutes in.

He came into the line and hit a gap left by the Otago defence, which was sucked in by dummy runner Danny Kayes.

Otago finally hit back on the stroke of halftime, Sekonaia Pole breaking off a lineout drive to score in the corner.

It was the lineout drive that set the platform for the second try, too.

After four attempts - and Thames Valley losing Lance Easton to the bin in the process - James Lentjes crashed over five minutes into the second half.

Ben Miller's conversion missed, before an obstruction off the kickoff allowed Broughton to make it 16-12.

Miller found a gap to cross for a try shortly afterwards, as the backline finally put a movement together.

Aleki Morris made it 26-16 when he hit a nice line to score on the hour mark.

But Otago finished stronger.

Dylan Nel made it 33-16 and while Lafituanai bagged a second when he finished off an intercept, a Miller penalty and Slade McDowall try sealed the win.

Otago coach Ben Herring had not been surprised by the Thames Valley start.

However, he said Otago had been guilty of trying to do too much and focused on simplifying things in the second half.

"I thought they'd come out and throw everything at us and I thought they played the game very well in that first half.

"They put the ball down the field nicely and they kept us camped down and put a bit of pressure on us.

"We probably just didn't look after the ball well enough, we made lots of mistakes.

"That's sometimes how preseason can go.

"It certainly tested the resolve, but I thought everyone came back pretty well in the second half.''

He added it had been a great event and brought out a good crowd to Wanaka.

Otago lost several players to injury throughout the game, although Herring said their prognosis would not be known until later in the week.

Ranfurly Shield

The scores
Otago - 41
Sekonaia Pole, James Lentjes, Ben Miller, Aleki Morris, Dylan Nel, Slade McDowall tries; Miller 4 con, pen.

Thames Valley - 21
Harry Lafituanai 2 tries; Reece Broughton 3 pen, con.

Halftime: 13-7 Thames Valley

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