Otago have put up a brave performance in yet another close Ranfurly Shield loss. It was neck and neck the whole way but a Southland try with 15 minutes to go proved to be the difference as they came away with a 16-12 win to defend the Log 'o' Wood.
It was a game that epitomised what the Ranfurly Shield means, as both teams showed true passion, tearing into each other and refusing to say die right until the final whistle.
The first decisive moment came ten minutes in. With the scores at 3 a piece, Otago first five, Glenn Dickson, was given a very dubious yellow card for a so-called spear tackle. Southland kicked the penalty to take the score to 6-3 and Otago were forced to play the next 10 minutes without their goal kicker which proved to be costly as stand-in kicker, Ben Smith, missed two crucial penalties in this time.
Nevertheless, Otago kept pounding away at Southland up front and were rewarded with two more penalties to take the score to 9-6 at half time.
The second half continued in the same manner as the first, with both forward packs continuing to show no mercy. Southland drew level with a penalty to take the score to 9-9, before Glenn Dickson hit back straight away with a drop goal to keep Otago ahead by three.
Then came the decisive moment in the game. A period of constant pressure by Southland saw them positioned well and it was only a matter of time before they crossed the line. Otago defended valiantly but in the end, could not hold out a determined Southland side. James Wilson converted the try to take the score to 16-12.
Despite the loss, Otago can hold it's head high. They showed the sort of passion that they have lacked over the past few years and showed that they are capable of competing with the best teams in the competition.
Eben Joubert was the stand out player, showing exceptional commitment in everything he did. Had he not gone off injured with 25 minutes to go who knows what the result could have been. If the whole team had have played with this sort of commitment it would be safe to say that the Shield would be residing in the ORFU headquarters today.
Kees Meeuws was also very good, making all his experience count, while Hayden Triggs was good in the lineouts.
In the backs no one really stood out, which proves to be a weakness for Otago who only once looked like scoring a try in the whole game.
For Southland Jamie Mackintosh led from the front putting in a good solid effort and was backed up by a well-drilled forward pack. James Wilson was the best back, looking dangerous when he ran and was efficient while kicking.
Next week Southland will defend the Shield against an inform Counties side who looked very good in a 31-18 win over Wellington today, while Otago will return home to home Wellington in a game they must win to keep their season alive.