Otago end Waikato’s winning streak to claim Ranfurly Shield
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.