Otago end Waikato’s win­ning streak to claim Ran­furly Shield

Sunday Star-Times - - SPORT - JOSEPH PEARSON

The Ran­furly Shield is head­ing to the deep south for the sum­mer as Otago matched their suc­cess­ful 2013 raid in Hamil­ton by hold­ing on for an en­thralling 23-19 win against Waikato in the Mitre 10 Cup yes­ter­day.

The Mooloos have been the com­pe­ti­tion’s form side and last Satur­day’s 11-try rout of North­land was a par­tic­u­larly threat­en­ing state­ment to the Cham­pi­onship’s other semi­fi­nal­ists, but they’ve lost the Log O’ Wood as Otago’s heroic de­fence bat­tled away to the bit­ter end at FMG Sta­dium Waikato.

Af­ter two failed chal­lenges against Hawke’s Bay in 2014 and Can­ter­bury in 2017, Otago have claimed provin­cial rugby’s most cov­eted prize for their sixth reign and earned a home semi­fi­nal against Hawke’s Bay next week­end.

Waikato’s fi­nal at­tack came up short af­ter Jono Arm­strong kicked an Otago player on the ground, re­vers­ing a penalty, and the chal­lengers held on for a stun­ning win that ends the Cham­pi­onship lead­ers’ six-match win­ning streak.

Af­ter two rel­a­tively com­fort­able de­fences against Hawke’s Bay and South­land, Otago were ev­i­dently go­ing to be Waikato’s tough­est chal­lengers af­ter the Mooloos snatched the Shield from Taranaki last month.

Otago raced out to an early lead but Waikato fought back ad­mirably, with skip­per Dwayne Sweeney lead­ing from the front, as the third de­fence of their 11th reign hung by a thread.

Waikato, who will host North­land in the semi­fi­nals, strug­gled to get on top of Otago as the prospect of los­ing the old log be­came very real in their last de­fence of the sea­son be­fore the fi­nals.

Former Otago play­maker Fletcher Smith, who has been so piv­otal in Waikato’s resur­gence un­der Jono Gibbes, probed his former side’s wall of blue and gold as the Mooloos threw ev­ery­thing at the chal­lengers.

The ten­sion boiled in the clos­ing stages as ref­eree Bren­don Pick­er­ill and the tele­vi­sion match of­fi­cial took an age to de­cide whether a slip­ping Tyler Camp­bell had been un­fairly clob­bered by Sio Tomkin­son, but there was noth­ing do­ing and the break al­lowed play­ers a breather in an thrilling con­test.

With a strong breeze be­hind them, Otago led 17-0 in­side the first quar­ter as Waikato were mak­ing a mess of ev­ery­thing from li­ne­outs to mir­a­cle off­loads, but the Mooloos would lift de­spite lack­ing the ac­cu­racy they’ve demon­strated dur­ing their fine run of form.

Waikato were con­tro­ver­sially de­nied a try but hit back to re­duce Otago’s lead by half­time af­ter ex­e­cut­ing a neat play from a dom­i­nant scrum.

In the first en­counter be­tween these two prov­inces since 2014, Otago had been sharp on turnovers but an eight-point lead head­ing into the sec­ond half was a dis­ap­point­ing re­turn given they had dom­i­nated long pe­ri­ods of the first half, es­pe­cially around the break­down.

Otago started brightly as Mitchell Scott fin­ished off an ex­cel­lent move to open the scor­ing and tries to Josh Dick­son and Joke­tani Koroi put the chal­lengers 17-0 in front.

Waikato re­gained their com­po­sure with Josh Iosefa-Scott pow­er­ing over from their first sus­tained at­tack be­fore Josh Ioane added a penalty for the vis­i­tors.

Samisoni Taukei’aho’s try was then ruled out for a ques­tion­able ob­struc­tion call but Camp­bell scor­ing on half­time brought Waikato right back into the con­test.

Ex­cel­lent hands led to Bai­lyn Sul­li­van’s try, mak­ing it a one-point game with 31 min­utes left, but Ioane’s sec­ond penalty took Otago four points clear as the clock started tick­ing in the fi­nal quar­ter.

It re­mained 23-19 as Otago on to claim the Shield. held


Otago cap­tain Michael Collins cra­dles the Shield yes­ter­day.

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