Shield nice but goal not met

Michael Collins holds the Ranfurly Shield aloft, a highlight in Otago's season. Photo: Getty Images
Michael Collins holds the Ranfurly Shield aloft, a highlight in Otago's season. Photo: Getty Images
Was Otago’s season one of achievement or one of disappointment? Rugby writer Steve Hepburn picks over the carcass and gives his take.

One has to live with high standards.

You have to aim high to get anywhere in life.

Otago will look back on the 2018 season with disappointment.

Sure there were some real highlights - the obvious one being the Ranfurly Shield win over Waikato which has the log o' wood based in Dunedin over the summer.

Many players improved and grew while others came back into form.

But the goal at the start of the season was to get promoted into the top echelon of the domestic competition.

That it could not do that as Waikato came steaming out and blew it away last Friday night was disappointing. And that is the cloud which hangs over the Otago season.

There is the argument Otago is better off in the lower division as it would find it too tough up against the might of the big boys.

But that is a defeatist approach. Surely it is better to go up and have a go rather than be content to stay down in the Championship.

When Otago started its season with two losses - and convincing losses at that - the side looked to be up a creek without a paddle.

It appeared to be lacking in the basics and with little, if any, X factor in its side.

But it bounced back to put 50 points on Manawatu and from then was a competitive side with some steel in its defence.

It won all its remaining games against Championship teams and became the only team in the whole season to beat Auckland.

Otago had a solid set piece but was probably too reliant on Josh Dickson at lineout time. Dickson was a ready and willing lineout source but the side could have done with more options as Tom Rowe battled injury for much of the campaign.

The scrum was solid and set a good platform.

The loose forwards grew as the season went on and No8 Dylan Nel made ground every time he had the ball. He was a bit of a one-trick pony but always got over the advantage line. Slade McDowall made big strides and showed he was an all-round footballer.

Halfback Kurt Hammer was another who grew as the season went on and was tigerish in everything he did. Josh Renton gut hurt early on but worked hard to get back to full fitness and showed some nice touches when he came back into the side.

First five-eighth Josh Ioane took a step up and ran the cutter nicely and there were few better in the competition. His goal-kicking was good for a bloke who never kicked until a couple of years ago.

Outside him in Sio Tomkinson and Matt Faddes, Otago two high-quality midfielders who stood above most.

Winger Mitchell Scott gave his all while Jona Nareki was constantly dangerous. He could create something from nothing.

At the back Michael Collins continues to grow and was a top leader. Bringing up 50 games for the province was a thoroughly deserved mark for Collins.

Otago also managed to steer clear of injuries and that was an added bonus. It crippled sides such as Manawatu and Taranaki.

For that a lot of credit must go to the medical team and coaches who kept working hard and maintained high standards.

It is just a shame those standards can not be tested at the next level next year.


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