Rugby: Key points - Otago v Southland

Jamie Mackintosh of Southland gets sent off by referee Jamie Nutbrown during the round seven ITM...
Jamie Mackintosh of Southland gets sent off by referee Jamie Nutbrown during the round seven ITM Cup match between Otago and Southland at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin. Photo by Getty

ODT Online rugby writer Jeff Cheshire identifies some key points from Otago's 61-7 victory over Southland in Dunedin last night.

A team on the improve

This Otago team has come a long way since the start of the season, and against Southland they delivered the most complete performance they have shown in many years. On attack they were patient, slick and clinical, and they brought desperation and accuracy to their defence. They are no longer trying to go wide straight away every time, having figured out their strength in the tight and playing to it. However, this game showed that if they do gain dominance up front, they have the backs to make use of the front foot ball. They have cut out many of the mistakes which dogged their early play - missed tackles, dropped passes - and are doing a good job of supporting the ball carrier to hold the ball. If they keep playing like this, they will compete with most teams.

Mackintosh's red card

When Jamie Mackintosh was sent from the field inside the first 25 minutes, it was always going to be hard for Southland to stay in the game. But that should not take away from how well Otago played. With or without Mackintosh, Otago would have been too good on this day. Their ability to exploit space and offload in the tackle was exceptional. Sure, Otago probably would not have won by as much had Southland had 15-men for the whole game, but it is hard to imagine they would not have won comfortably. Even at the time Mackintosh was sent off they had already scored two very well worked tries and were looking good.

Open game but not reckless

Otago showed plenty of patience in implementing an open game plan which saw them look to move the ball to open spaces. They kicked from their own half, chased hard to pressure the kick receiver, then looked to attack, be it on the counter or from set-piece, once they had established field position. On the counter attack they were lethal, finding gaps in the Southland chase line, supporting play and offloading to keep the ball alive. The Southland defence was unable to maintain a rampant Otago. When it was not on to go wide, they didn't. Instead they were patient, building phases, holding the ball and working themselves into a position to score. That was how they crossed the line the first two times, before the game really opened up.

Defensive intensity

As good as Otago's attack was, their defence was equally outstanding. The line got up fast to shut down the Southland space and tackled aggressively. Often Southland looked to move the ball wide early to exploit the space, but the Otago defence was swarming and so many times bundled the ball carrier into touch. On the kick chase they got up quickly and applied pressure to the recipient, which had a large bearing on the way Otago were able to be so dominant.

The difference a positive approach makes

In this game we saw two teams that turned up with the intention of playing rugby and a referee who let them do so. It was refreshing compared to the stop-start World Cup games that have been dominated by TMO reviews, injury breaks, scrum resets and teams kicking for mauls. Both teams were prepared to use the ball and even Otago, who have dominated through their maul this year, were reluctant to use their set-piece as a weapon. That makes for a more open game which is far better to watch and presumably more enjoyable for the players too.

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