Tasman hold on against Otago
A depleted Tasman team held on under extreme pressure to score a dramatic and controversial 29-27 Mitre 10 Cup rugby win over Otago in Dunedin on Saturday.
The match certainly produced plenty of drama, Tasman reduced to 13 men at one stage during the second half when captain and lock Alex Ainley was shown a yellow card and big centre Levi Aumua was red-carded by referee Mike Fraser following a dangerous tip tackle.
Tasman had finally appeared to shake off the indecision and inaccuracy of their earlier performances with a much more clinical first half display against a highly-competitive Otago outfit. But they had to fight for survival in the second half, displaying immense character against a determined home side.
Relieved Tasman head coach Leon MacDonald managed to find a lighter side to the on-field drama.
‘‘We’re making a habit of going out to a lead and keeping things interesting for people back home, for entertainment value I think.’’ MacDonald quipped.
‘‘It’s not doing me any good anyway, I feel like I’m going to have a heart attack one of these days.’’
Still, he acknowledged the character displayed by his team over the dying stages.
‘‘I think we made some big steps forward again. I thought our defensive line looked way more solid for the most part and when you think about the [Otago] tries, a fumbled ball in goal and a contestable ball in the air where it was probably a try either way.
‘‘Otherwise, the line breaks were minimal and our tackle accuracy, which was off against Wellington, was far better. So we’re making some real good strides there.
‘‘We’re just letting ourselves down with key moments and key plays and a yellow card and a red card, it’s pretty hard to win games when you’re losing two guys off the park. Both of them will be disappointed with that for sure, as [the coaches] are.’’
The early exchanges provided plenty of action for the Forsyth Barr Stadium faithful.
Tasman winger James Lowe made a significant early impact, exposing Otago’s wide defence by first setting up his fullback Will Jordan for a try in corner before powering through Otago fullback Fletcher Smith’s attempted tackle to help put the visitors ahead 15-3 after 15 minutes.
A try to second five-eighth Teihorangi Walden, complemented by a Smith penalty, soon had Otago back in touch at 15-13.
However, the telling moment of the half came just nine minutes before the break when Aumua powered his way through several attempted Otago tackles to score a superb individual try. Hunt’s conversion brought up his 50 points for the season.
Tasman were well worth their 22-13 halftime lead, showing plenty of confidence on attack and a willingness to keep the ball alive.
The second half began sensationally when referee Mike Fraser awarded Tasman a penalty try when Otago first five-eighth Josh Ioane was yellow carded for allegedly knocking the ball down with the tryline beckoning.
The drama wasn’t over though, Ainley dispatched for an indiscretion at a ruck as both teams were reduced to 14 men. But still the controversy continued, Aumua then shown a red card with 24 minutes remaining to heap the pressure on Tasman.
Despite their numerical disadvantage, Tasman showed plenty of resolve as Otago sensed a genuine opportunity.
Otago inevitably exploited the mismatch as tries to centre Sio Tomkinson and reserve loosie Sione Teu cut the margin to 29-27 with just under four minutes remaining.
An Otago knock on with a minute left on the clock ultimately saved Tasman’s bacon.
Tasman’s Mitch Hunt clears the ball against Otago during thir Mitre 10 Cup clash against Otago on Saturday.