Depleted Tasman hang on to pip Otago
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.