Draw, injuries, errors cost Blue and Golds

A number of events that Otago could do little about had a big impact on the team's season, Steve...
A number of events that Otago could do little about had a big impact on the team's season, Steve Hepburn says. Photo Getty
Otago crashed out in the semifinals of the Mitre 10 Cup last weekend, falling short of its goal to win the championship. Rugby writer Steve Hepburn looks back on a season which was a real mixed bag.

Coaches often talk about them. It is one of those management terms which has sneaked its way into rugby jargon - the controllables and uncontrollables.

The controllables - coaches and players can only control what they can control. Things like skills, fitness, game plans.

Other things are out of their control, such as injuries, referees, draws. These are known as the uncontrollables.

Well, the issue with Otago this year was it had too many uncontrollables - events which it could do little about and which in the end had a big impact on its season.

The side had a tough draw. Probably the toughest of all the championship teams.

Sure, draws are like mother-in-laws - you learn to live with them and just get on with it.

But Otago started with three of the Mitre 10 Cup premiership semifinalists in its first five games.

Northland, on the other hand, had to play only one of the top four sides in its entire season and Bay of Plenty was the same, playing Taranaki but not taking on Canterbury, Tasman or North Harbour.

The Mitre 10 Cup is over very quickly. But what you do see is teams lacking consistency. Again, if you get a good draw and strike teams at the right times then the wins will come. Otago didn't and it paid for it.

Otago also had a truckload of injuries. It used upwards of 40 players. Two of its most experienced men - Michael Collins and Liam Coltman - never got on the paddock at all.

Experience is sometimes over-rated but the loss of those players, along with back Matt Faddes, who was out for most of the season, was a big blow to the side.

Most of the injuries came from on-field incidents. It was not through a lack of preparation.

Every side gets injuries and a squad has to have depth to cover them.

But in this day and age where players of a middling quality can get a contract overseas, few unions have any depth.

The players who came in did well, but not having that bit of extra experience and class did make a difference.

People had their usual moans about referees, but that has to be expected. They are a mixed bag and you have just got to get on with it and play.

The side picked up 10 bonus points and in the end that was what got it through to the semifinals. Northland actually won one more game but finished behind Otago because of bonus points.

Otago, though, needed to turn a couple of those close losses into wins. If it had done that it would have had a home semifinal and it may have still been alive this week.

Home advantage does mean a lot in this competition, especially when having to travel to places where it takes most of the day to get there.

The side was off in a couple of games that mattered - Bay of Plenty at home and then again in the semifinal.

The loss last Saturday in the semifinal was particularly galling and will not be a great one to recall over the coming months.

The set piece was the big plus for Otago this year and all four of the props in the side would easily slot into Super Rugby.

The loose forwards worked hard and as a team the side played well for most of the season.

But like many Otago teams before it there were too many individual errors.

Games are made up of 100 one percenters. In the end, in the semifinal, the one percenters they did do fell well short of what was required for victory.

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