Spirit burns bright but Heat forwards, set pieces prove decisive

There is still absolutely no way to fault the Otago Spirit for enthusiasm, enterprise and grit.

But a little physicality can go a long way, as the Spirit discovered in Pukekohe yesterday.

The Counties-Manukau Heat leaned on its superior forward pack and set-piece dominance to ease to a 39-7 win in the Farah Palmer Cup clash.

Otago showed oodles of commitment, some lovely touches and a willingness to have a go, but time and again it was met by a wall of Counties-Manukau muscle.

The scrums were a particular mismatch as a home front row with size and experience monstered the Spirit unit.

Further out, the Heat sent its power runners on to the ball with precision, and plenty of metres were on offer through rampaging lock Harono Te Iringa, hooker Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate and halfback Letitia Vaka.

The real damage was done in the final 15 minutes of the first half when the Heat rattled on three unanswered tries to take a 22-point lead into the break.

Otago had started well, defending stoutly and taking a 7-5 lead when hooker Gemma Millar showed pace and a delightful dummy to scamper in for a try from 35m.

Both young wingers, Keely Hill and Oceana Campbell, looked lively, and co-captain Greer Muir worked tirelessly in the loose.

The undisputed star for the Spirit, though, was compact flanker Leah Miles, who pulled off one astonishing try-saving tackle, stripped a Heat attacker right on the goal-line and bounced around the field with supercharged intensity.

The second half started poorly for Otago when Campbell was sent to the bin and Heat winger Dayna Moon scored two quick tries.

But the Spirit fought back well for parity the rest of the game.

It was a third straight loss in the premiership for Otago. Its next game is against Waikato at Forsyth Barr Stadium this Saturday.

In other Farah Palmer Cup games, Hawkes Bay beat North Harbour 45-24, Taranaki beat Tasman 34-12, Waikato beat Bay of Plenty 27-10, Manawatu beat Northland 39-12, and Canterbury beat Wellington 23-22.

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