The Premiers suffered a heart breaking loss in their semi-final against Taieri going down 25-21, after leading for the majority of the match played at the Forsyth Barr Stadium. It continues a frustrating run of semi-final losses over recent years, when our strong Premier teams have had realistic expectations of being title contenders.
Saturday’s match was an exciting, high quality game of rugby, but the loss will leave a sour taste for the players and supporters, who saw the game slip away in the second half after a dominant first half performance that had the Magpie team leading 21-12, and scoring 3 tries to none.
Possession and territory were in the Magpies favour in the first half, and if it was not for the excellent penalty kicking of their first five Josh Casey, Taieri would have been out of the contest. In a twenty minute Magpie blitz right wing Josh Gordon scored a hat trick of tries before halftime with fine finishing, all in the right hand corner. The first came after first five eighth Josh Ioane breached the defensive line and sent Gordon away, the second was after a large build up that had Mika Mafi break through, offload to Tim Ferguson, before Ioane again breached the line to send Gordon away in the best movement of the match. The third try was instigated by Ioane again, who was having an outstanding game, who made the break to put Gordon in for his hat trick.
Despite the Southern dominance, in between these tries Casey converted 4 penalties from mostly long range positions, to always have them in touch, while Bryce Hosie missed with his 3 touchline conversions and 2 long range penalties to not extend the lead. At halftime the score was 21-12 to Southern.
The second half was much more even with Taieri showing their finals experience in retaining the ball for long periods, and testing the Southern defence. It was finally breached 15 minutes into the 2nd half when James Lentjes drove through a tackle to score under the posts which was easily converted by Casey. The score was now 21-19 and the dominance had evaporated on the scoreboard.
The game ebbed and flowed for the next 20 minutes with no scoring plays. There were further opportunities to score by the Magpies, but breaks were ended with a careless handling error or an infringement at the breakdown. The set piece also started to falter as the pressure built. A key penalty kick was missed to extend the lead outside the 3 point margin, and seemed it just wasn’t going to be Bryce Hosie’s day with the boot – with the majority of his kicks from difficult positions. A real shame for Bryce with him having had a fantastic season and scoring over 200 points.
Some dubious penalties were awarded against our dominant scrum in attacking positions that eased the pressure on Taieri, but a rock solid defence – at one stage defending 40 consecutive rucks – was reassuring for the Magpies and meant if they held their discipline they could still win the match.
And then came the critical penalty of the match – a Southern player got himself offside at the ruck, 40 metres out, and Casey duly kicked his 5th penalty goal to give Taieri the lead 22-21 with 5 minutes to go. Hearts were in mouths. Southern had possession to try one last attack and had subbed on alternate kicker Ben Patston to take the possible shot at goal. Unfortunately the attack faltered and with time running out, another penalty was conceded inside our half when desperately trying to attack the ball at the breakdown. Casey converted to take the score to 25-21 and the game was at an end. Both teams had given their all, however one team was elated and the other was devastated.
It would be hard to be critical of the Southern performance, at times they were sublime. They left everything on the paddock for the team and the Club. But if there has been one area that has been the teams Achilles heal it is the infringement rate at the breakdown. It again proved to be the teams undoing, and if one had read the report of last weeks match against Harbour, a warning was raised about controlling the teams discipline against the best goal kicker in town, unfortunately that is exactly how it played out.
Players to shine were Josh Ioane at first five who created the breaks for all three of Josh Gordon’s tries. Tei Walden at 2nd five who had a huge work rate, and put himself in the play continually with carries, tackling and covering. Gordon took his scoring opportunnities well and did everything he could from the right wing. In the forwards the experienced Jed Vercoe and Warren Moffat and young Tom Scanlon edged their opponents in the scrum and were bemused at the referees penalty rulings, while Tim Ferguson, Dan Baxter, and Ryan Thompson worked hard.
Two of Southern’s finest were no 8 Mika Mafi, and blindside flank Adam Knight. They both showed why they should be in the Otago squad this season. Mafi tackled and ran strongly and made 2 decisive line breaks that led to big territory gains and points. Knight was a continual source of lineout ball at the back, while his offensive tackling stopped his opponents in their tracks.
For Taieri, although kept in check running, Casey’s kicking proved match winning with 7 kicks from 7, while Highlander’s flanker James Lentjes showed why he is the leading no 7 in Otago. McLennan and Sueli at prop, no 8 Charlie O’Connell and Michael Collins at 2nd five became more prominent as the game wore on and showed their experience.
Once again the season has ended one week early for our Premier team – through our black and white eyes (and to be fair in most neutral peoples eyes) the better team lost. The team have to live with that and come back stronger next year, the coaches and team leaders will make the changes that will get us that one (or two) steps closer to that Championship banner. Coaches Colin Tuaine and Dion Lobb have enjoyed an extremely successful season, only losing 3 games and beating every team in the grade at least once, and the majority twice. They lose long term team members and now qualified university students Dan Baxter and Nathan Cargo for 2016, while impact lock Alex Dalzell is also expected to be leaving. The Club thanks them for their contribution loyal service through the colts grades and Premiers, and they will forever be Magpies. The good news is the rest of the squad appears will be around to have another crack, something we look forward to watching again in 2016 when the Magpies will bring home the banner.
In the other semi-final top seeded Harbour were upset by 4th placed University 35-33 after they got off to a terrible start, but they fought back to lead with 10 minutes remaining before University closed out the match strongly.
University and Taieri will therefore repeat their final from 2014 when Taieri routed the students 51-6. It will be a lot closer affair this year it is predicted. Taieri will be chasing their 4th banner in 5 years, something we don’t exactly like at Southern and at the other Clubs but something we all have to admire.
The season continues at the Club with the Premier 2s hunting down a semi-final position, while both Colts teams are currently top of their tables in their respective grades and will be even more motivated to bring home the championship to the Club.