Soft-pedal after early strike sinks Tasman
Thirty minutes into yesterday's national provincial championship rugby contest, Tasman looked on course to unleash some pent-up frustrations.
Ahead 13-3 and two slick tries already in the bag, Tasman appeared to be laying the framework for their first ever win over Otago and to bury any lingering remnants of the previous week's disappointing home loss to Northland.
But they simply weren't prepared for Otago's late onslaught as four second-half tries, including two in the last five minutes, eventually saw Otago canter to a commanding 39-13 win at Dunedin's Forsyth Barr Stadium.
Tasman had built an encouraging early advantage on the back of a spectacular and superbly executed opening-minute 80m try to second five-eighth and captain Andrew Goodman after some exciting interplay down the right flank between fullback Tom Marshall and wing Peter Betham.
And when first five-eighth Hayden Cripps scampered across on the half hour after more solid buildup and an inpass from wing Robbie Malneek, Tasman appeared ready to consolidate their advantage at 13-3.
Sadly for Tasman, it all began to unravel alarmingly and irrevocably as a late first-half try to Otago centre Jayden Spence, after a quick throw in by elusive Otago wing Buxton Popoali'i caught Tasman's defence unawares, saw Tasman head to the break with only a slim 13-10 lead.
Otago's players had obviously paid close attention to their first-half failings, returning after the break with much more intensity and confidence, epitomised by a tighter, more accurate defence and a willingness to follow Tasman's earlier lead by attacking from all over the park.
Their increasing dominance at the breakdowns also began to hurt Tasman as the previously elusive visitors were forced to absorb increasing pressure from a highly committed Otago side.
Otago's Japanese halfback, Fumiaki Tanaka, was creating plenty of heartache for Tasman's defences around the fringes, sniping constantly, and when he took a quick tap from a penalty inside the opening minute of the second half, wing Marshall Suckling was suddenly in at the corner after Tanaka's unsecured chip kick bounced kindly for the home team.
Tasman never scored again, with a further try to Suckling eight minutes later pushing Otago to a handy 24-13 lead. Still they kept coming, with a 45m intercept by fullback Tony Ensor, as Malneek tried to run the ball out of his own half with five minutes remaining, and a try on fulltime to substitute wing Peter Breen ended Tasman's misery.
Besides Tanaka's influential hand, Popoali'i, Ensor and Spence maintained an up-tempo approach during the second half as Tasman failed to respond either defensively or in their ability to counter Otago's added sting at the breakdowns. First five-eighth Hayden Parker's accurate goalkicking, landing six of his nine attempts, was also crucial in Otago's ability to keep the score ticking over during the second half.
While obviously happy with his team's start, Tasman skipper Goodman pointed to misplaced attitude as a key ingredient in his team's poor second-half response.
"We did start well, but we just went to sleep after that," he said. "It was a pretty disappointing effort really.
"[It was] just attitude. [Otago] showed up, they were committed to the breakdown and they played some good footy so they deserved their win today.
"Unforced errors again really killed us, so that's something we have to look at and we need to get a bit of pride back in that jersey."
Otago skipper and No 8 Paul Grant was a key figure in his team's gritty forward effort, often leading the charge with ball in hand, and was delighted with his team's second-half revival.
"Yeah, I was really happy the way we kept that composure," Grant said.
"We obviously didn't start that well, but we're a fit team and we scored some tries later on, which was awesome to see." He said his players needed little prompting at halftime after a relatively innocuous start.
"We knew what we were doing wrong and I was really pleased with the way the boys came out in the second half . . . good to see us scoring some tries, backing ourselves and showing some pretty good skills there at the end after we tightened up our D[efence], which was pretty poor early on.
"We talked about getting off the line and putting pressure on them. These guys are a good team. We knew we had to work hard to shut their attack down, which we did later on."
Tasman's loss now drops them from second to third on the championship points table, with a tough encounter against premiership team Waikato looming in Hamilton on Thursday.
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