Rugby: Fine first half secures Otago win

Otago winger Karne Hesketh celebrates scoring in the tackle of North Harbour lock Filo Paulo, in...
Otago winger Karne Hesketh celebrates scoring in the tackle of North Harbour lock Filo Paulo, in their Air New Zealand Cup match at Carisbrook in Dunedin last night. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Otago got into the winning column and nabbed an important bonus point when it beat North Harbour 29-9 at Carisbrook in Dunedin last night.

Riding on the back of a fine loose forward performance by Adam Thomson, Otago bagged its first win of the season, although it had to do it with little ball and territory in the second half.

The match was a paradox to most seen in the Air New Zealand Cup this season.

There was plenty of action in the first half but both sides went to sleep after half-time, and no points were scored in the second period until Otago first five-eighth Chris Noakes burrowed across under the posts with four minutes left.

Otago led 22-9 at the break.

Otago deserved its win for its efforts in the first half, when it scored three tries and made the most of its chances.

It defended well when asked and nabbed some crucial turnovers at just the right time.

Harbour had plenty of ball throughout the game, but it lacked ideas and the Otago defence was composed throughout the game.

That was especially so early in the second half, when Harbour camped on the Otago line for more than five minutes but could not score.

Harbour did get over the line midway through the second period but but was called back by referee Chris Pollock for a forward pass.

Silly errors cost the visiting side, with too many knock-ons and poor options but Otago was also its own worst enemy at times, failing to clear the ball when it had the opportunity.

Otago could not get much continuity into its game in the second period and was stranded in its own territory for too long.

But its first half effort was impressive and showed if it can put it together for 80 minutes it can be a force in the competition.

Thomson had an outstanding match, winning line-out ball, making countless tackles, and looking a force on attack.

Not far behind him was fullback Ben Smith, who not only scored a try but made a couple of piercing breaks, and looked composed under the high ball.

Winger Karne Hesketh ran hard and showed plenty of strength.

Captain and openside flanker Alando Soakai worked hard at the breakdown and hooker Jason Macdonald got through plenty of work.

Best for Harbour was lock James King, who won plenty of ball, while outside backs George Pisi and Anthony Tuitavake looked dangerous but had too few opportunities.

Luke McAlister showed he could kick a ball but tried to play the role of conductor rather than ball runner.

Otago scored the first try with quarter of an hour gone, after Hesketh found some space down the right hand side.

Prop Ben Nolan then broke the line from the resulting ruck and when Otago recycled the ball it was quickly moved wide, where lock Tom Donnelly was in acres of space to canter over for a try.

But any advantage from that try was quickly wiped out by two quick McAlister penalties to put the visiting side ahead.

McAlister had earlier slotted a penalty for the first points of the game.

But Otago did not lie down and swung back on to attack and after Smith surged near the line, the ball was moved to Hesketh who shrugged off two tackles to barge over in the corner after 21 minutes.

Noakes added the conversion from the sideline.

Five minutes later, Otago had its third try, after Smith followed up his kick and charged down a clearance from Harbour fullback Jack McPhee.

The ball sat up for the Otago custodian to dot down.

Noakes then added a penalty to give Otago a 13-point lead with less than half an hour gone.

Wellington coach Jamie Joseph has stuck to his guns and ignored several available All Blacks for match against Bay of Plenty in Rotorua tomorrow night, NZPA reports.

Joseph has chosen only No 8 Rodney So'oialo for the match despite requests from the All Black coaches for New Zealand players to be given game time in between their Tri-Nations commitments.

Even then, Joseph yesterday named So'oialo to start the game off the reserves bench, while Cory Jane, Piri Weepu and Neemia Tialata have been overlooked altogether.

The scores
Otago 29
Tom Donnelly, Karne Hesketh, Ben Smith, Chris Noakes tries; Noakes two conversions, Glenn Dickson conversion, Noakes penalty goal
North Harbour 9 Luke McAlister three penalty goals Half-time: 22-9 Otago.
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