Better off without the ball, perhaps

Otago No8 Dylan Nel celebrates after scoring his try against Northland during the ITM Cup rugby...
Otago No8 Dylan Nel celebrates after scoring his try against Northland during the ITM Cup rugby match between Otago and Northland at the Forsyth Barr Stadium last night. Photo: Peter McIntosh
There have been some great games at Forsyth Barr Stadium over the years — this wasn’t one of them.

Otago got home in a close one, winning 27-23 over Northland in a Mitre 10 Cup match last night after it trailed 10-7 at the break.

It was an arm wrestle throughout and neither side could get on the front foot.Otago, though, got the win, as it had more territory and managed to just do enough.

But it was no classic. If it were a movie, it would go straight to video.

There were too many errors from both teams and consequently neither side could get any momentum. Few phases were built and the option-taking left a fair bit to be desired.

The backs ran too much across field, which made it easy for the tacklers, and the defensive side appeared stronger at the breakdown. It was one of those games where teams were probably better off without the ball.

Otago got over-excited too often and failed to finish after it had worked hard to get near the Northland tryline.

It was behind by 10 points early in the second half but a try to winger Jona Nareki right in the corner got it back into the match.

Penalties were then traded but Otago went ahead when replacement flanker Joketani Koroi barged over.

Then, with a few minutes left, replacement flanker Slade McDowall grabbed a ruck turnover. Josh Ioane knocked over the penalty and Otago stayed strong to bag the win.

Best for Otago was No8 Dylan Nel, while lock Tom Rowe worked hard. Halfback Kurt Hammer was quick round the field and Ioane did most things well.

The first 20 minutes of the match was littered with mistakes and it was a preview of the hour to follow.

There was the odd bit of good play by both teams but it always ended with an unforced error as many players’ skills went out the window. Northland had the first chance to put points on the board with a penalty through Jack Debreczeni and he put it over, hitting the post before the ball sneaked over the bar.

Otago finally got on the board shortly afterwards, as No8 Nel barged over.

Halfback Hammer spotted a gap from a 5m scrum but was hauled down just short.

Nel just picked the ball up and drove to the tryline.Ioane converted to give his side a 7-3 lead with half an hour gone.

But Northland would not lie down and after centre Rene Ranger ran hard and straight, Northland shifted it wide and winger Tamati Tua dived over in the corner.

Debreczeni kicked the conversion from the sideline to give his side a 10-7 lead at the break.

Northland scored early in the second half when Debreczeni burrowed his way over as Northland attacked the line.

That gave the visitor a 10-point lead and the pressure went on Otago.

• The late game last night was billed as the battle of the two unbeaten heavyweights in  the Premiership but home side Auckland proved far too strong, easily accounting for  Tasman 36-10. 

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