Rugby: Otago feet firmly on the ground

The Otago Rugby Union is still short of cash and the Otago ITM Cup team is doing its bit for the budget by staying in a school hostel at Whangarei.

''We are staying in the boarding school at Whangarei Boys' High School,'' assistant coach Phil Young said from Whangarei yesterday.

''It's grass-roots stuff but it has been good for the morale of the team. The players just want to get out on the paddock and play for each other.''

The coaching staff have been mindful of the short turnaround of just four days between games and some of the key players, such as Gareth Evans, Liam Coltman, Fumiaki Tanaka and Hayden Parker, are on the bench.

''Bodies have been a bit battered and recovery has been our focus this week,'' Young said.

''We can't do much hard training on the grass and have concentrated on the mental side of the game.

''At this time of the season, we can't change much and have concentrated on getting better at using the systems we have tried to implement all season.

''If we can do that, we have a very good chance of winning the game.''

The coaching staff have kept the players' feet firmly on the ground and they are not getting carried away by the comfortable 37-23 win over North Harbour last Saturday.

''We want the win first and will worry about the bonus point after that,'' Young said.

Everything points to an Otago win because Otago is third on the championship points table and Northland is at the bottom. A bonus-point win would guarantee a home semifinal.

Northland has had only one win in the ITM Cup but it has some classy players. Dynamic centre Rene Ranger can be a match-winner and first five-eighth Ben Seymour has a solid tactical kicking game.

''They have a good set piece, particularly at lineout time, and a lively seven in Dan Pryor,'' Young said.

''If they get up for it they could be a handful and it could be a long day at the office if we allow them to get their tails up.

''We just have to trust our defence systems, keep knocking them over and wait for the opportunities. to come our way.''

Young has been pleased with the development of the team this year and some of the players have made big inroads.

''The loose forwards have been pushing each other to get starts,'' Young said.

''The two Toms at lock - Franklin and Donnelly - have been good for us and Donnelly has passed on his experience to the younger players.''

A new player to impress Young has been loosehead prop Craig Millar, who has been dubbed the player of the future.

The return of fullback Tony Ensor from injury has given the backs more attacking options. He can create gaps in the defence with his blistering speed.

First five-eighth Peter Breen will be the goal kicker and he will team with rookies Josh Renton at halfback and Tei Walden at second five-eighth. Both are in the starting XV for the first time.

''It is a new starting combination but we have full faith in it,'' Young said. Otago achieved the first target of the mini-tour when it gained a bonus-point win against North Harbour on Saturday.

''We didn't take our eyes off the ball and played that game on its merits,'' Young said.

''Tony [Brown] and I were happy for the boys when they got over the line.''

Otago v Northland
Toll Stadium, Whangarei, 7.35pm

Otago: Tony Ensor, Buxton Popoali'i, Jayden Spence, Tei Walden, Matt Faddes, Peter Breen, Josh Renton, Paul Grant (captain), Hugh Blake, Lee Allan, Tom Franklin, Ezra Taylor, Scott Manson, Sam Anderson-Heather, Craig Millar. Reserves: Liam Coltman, Aki Seiuli, Charlie O'Connell, TJ Ioane, Gareth Evans, Fumiaki Tanaka, Hayden Parker.

Northland: Mathew Wright, Whiria Meltzer, Rene Ranger (captain), Viliami Tahitu'a, Mateo Malupo, Ben Seymour, Mac Sykes, Jake Paringatai, Dan Pryor, Roy Griffin, Bryce Williams, Tom Murday, Bronson Murray, Matt Moulds, Ross Wright. Reserves: John Will-Griff, Dave Morgan, Ben Berridge, Sonatane Takulua, Daniel Hawkins, Derek Carpenter.

Referee: Ben O'Keefe (Canterbury).


Add a Comment