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Canterbury vs Otago : A view from the stands
Canterbury vs Otago : A view from the stands
(A classic beginning to a new Shield reign)

Otago vs Canterbury
Jade Stadium, at Lancaster Park
30 September, 2000
NPC Round 8 (& Ranfurly Shield challenge #1)
Referee: Kelvin Deaker

What a perfect way to start a new shield reign in Red and Black territory!

It was a lovely balmy night in Christchurch, just perfect for a night at the rugby. The ground was packed, even the embankment, due to be demolished to make way for the new stand, was given a reprieve (I'm sure $$ had a lot to do with this decision!) and was stuffed full of rabid Canterbury and Otago fans.

As with all the big Canterbury games the Rugbyheads had to have a man at the ground, and as luck would have it a free ticket came my way courtesy of Duncan Cotterill (thanks Cindy, Ewan and co!)

I'm not going to give a blow-by-blow match report, you can follow the NZOOM link below for that, but I will touch on the performance of some of the players and the wonderful atmosphere at the ground.

Firstly I would like to say that Otago played great, and most of the Cantabs that I was sitting with were very nervous for about 90% of the game! There was a lot of talk about how the Otago All Blacks needed to have big games to secure their places in the end of season tour, and had more than a few points to prove going up against their fellow AB's in the Canterbury pack. There were some wonderful matchups in this game from that point of view alone, especially in the front row, loose forwards and inside backs.

The way I saw it the front row battle was pretty much a draw. Scrums weren't a big factor in the game and both teams tended to hold their own scrums solid. On defense I thought Greg Somerville had a big game, and Anton Oliver made some strong runs with the ball in hand, otherwise no real standouts. It was good to see Hammett back from injury though, he played well for the last 20 minutes of the game.

In the loose it was almost too close to call, all four All Black loosies played up to their potential, with Thorne and Robertson probably getting the honours just due to the fact that their side had more attacking ball. Thorne got the man of the match award, and was a key link player for Canterbury in maintaining momentum of attack, but Taine was huge on defence, and also made some nice breaks. On the other side of the scrum Josh was his usual annoying self (if you are supporting the team playing him!), he was responsible for probably half of the turnovers that Canterbury had, just by snaffling the ball back in the ruck and maul situation. While I am confident that Robertson can handle taking over the All Black No. 7 duties, and he is definitely a better player on attack (esp. now that Josh seems to have lost a bit of pace), this is the one area where no-one really comes close to Josh.

In the inside backs the Canterbury unit definitely takes the honours. Kelleher had his best game of the NPC season, scoring a great try and making a power of tackles his outside partners, Brown and Alatini, were outplayed on most occasions by Mehrtens and Gibson. Mehrts really surprised the Otago defence on a number of occasions by attacking the line, and he was able to put his support into space on plenty of occasions by doing this. By contrast Brown only made one break, and seemed more content to kick it or spread it wide. His goal kicking was again erratic, which has to be a concern for the AB selectors. (I think Blair could make the team on the strength of his kicking alone!) Marshall had a quite game on attack by his standards but was very cool on defence, controlling play well and pushing Otago back with some great clearing kicks.

In the outside backs both sides played awesomely. For Canterbury Vunibaka has definitely left his nightmare against Auckland well behind him, scoring two nice tries, with the second of them being one of the tries of the season. With his match winning try Caleb Ralph joins another ex-Auckland winger (James Kerr, in the 1998 Super 12 final) in the Canterbury legend books, give that boy a CD!

Ben Blair continued his fine play and has to get my vote for Canterbury player of the NPC so far, if he doesn't get MacDonald's spot in the All Black squad then their is something seriously wrong with the world. Again he kicked well and on numerous occasions ran the ball back in a manner that Cully would be proud of (although he did get isolated a couple of times and turn it over), another great performance from the young man.

For Otago Justin Swart and Hayden Reid continued their fine form, in the Otago matches I have seen this season these two guys have been consistantly classy and tonight was no exception. They teamed up to score the first Otago try, and then Swart scored one of the classiest solo tries of the season when he chipped over the defence on half-way, regather with one hand and fended off Gibson with the other and then glided into the corner untouched, even the Cantabs cheered for that try, breath-taking. If the new South African coach has got any sense he will sign this guy up for the Boks next season, he's got to be better than Percy or Chester!

Canterbury looked more dangerous when they had the ball, and at half time the Canterbury supporters in the crowd were pretty comfortable with the 14-18 scoreline, feeling confident that we would continue to dominate territory in the second spell and run away with it. While the territory stat remained in their favour Canterbury weren't able to convert it into points though and when Otago stretched the scoreline out to 26-14 with 24 minutes to go the crowd were very quiet, sensing an upset and a very short shield reign!

I for one didn't think we would get back into it, especially when I mis-read the clock as saying 10 minutes to go rather than 20 and concluded we just didn't have time to score two tries. (Speaking of the clock, that scoreboard at Jade has got to be one of the worst in the country, let's hope the new stand will include a new scoreboard!)

The Canterbury players obviously didn't have the same doubts though, and they managed to turn their weight of possession and territory into 15 un-answered points in the last 20 minutes and snatch an amazing victory from Otago's grasp.

As a lot of people have claimed, this is the mark of a champion side, and for sure it is, but I would rather the boys had the game in the bag a bit earlier on next time, my heart can't take too many more games like that!

Match Stats
Canterbury   Otago
29 (14) Points 26 (18)
64% (63) Territory 36% (37)
58% (54) Possession 42% (46)
12 Minutes in Opp '22 4
17 (12) Turnovers 13 (7)
3 (2) Lineouts Against the Throw 3 (0)
10 (7) Penalties 13 (5)
TRIES Vunibaka (2), Ralph
KICKING Blair (1 Con, 3 Pen)
TRIES Reid, Swart, Kelleher
KICKING Brown (1 Con, 2 Pen, 1 Drop Goal)

Other Coverage:
NZOOM LiveScoring (play by play)

NZOOM Match report

Match Photos
Blair lines it up (58k) - penalty kick, early in the first half
The crowd on the bank (40k) - and Canterbury Rugby will be laughing all the way to the bank!
The Shield on display (52k) - this is what it's all about
unfortunately I forgot to charge the camera before the game so the bloody battery went flat at about half time - bugger it!



Let us know what you think!

FANTASTIC GAME! That's what Shield rugby is all about, the holder coming back from the dead and fighting off a valiant effort from the challenger!

Of course I guess there are more than a few Otago fans out there who for once want to kick that choker tag for good, not this time I'm afraid!

Supposedly this article has been viewed times since we bothered to start counting*.
(Although it could have just been on the Reload button doing some serious ego padding!)