De­pleted Tas­man hang on to pip Otago

Sunday Star-Times - - SPORT - WAYNE MARTIN

A weak­ened Tas­man held on un­der ex­treme pres­sure to score a dra­matic and con­tro­ver­sial 29-27 Mitre 10 Cup win over Otago in Dunedin yes­ter­day.

The match 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 pro­duced a clin­i­cal first half dis­play but 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.’’

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 the 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. Mitch 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 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, with Ain­ley dis­patched for an in­dis­cre­tion at a ruck as both teams were re­duced to 14 men.

The con­tro­versy con­tin­ued, with 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 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 left. An Otago knock on with a minute left on the clock ul­ti­mately saved Tas­man’s ba­con as they held on for the win.

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