Otago’s defence earns home final

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Friday, October 21, 2016    Getty Images

Otago had lost their last three semifinal appearances but were desperate not to make it four against a Bay of Plenty side that had scored more tries than any other team in the Championship.

Knowing that defence would win the knockout clash, Otago were strong in the contact zone, scrambled well and offered Bay of Plenty very few counter attack opportunities

After only winning three games during the competition phase, Bay of Plenty had nothing to lose and put Otago under pressure early with a Dan Hollinshead penalty to strike first.

In his 50th match for Otago, powerful lock Tom Franklin barged over to score from Otago’s first scoring opportunity in the Bay of Plenty half. Otago’s back three of Mitchell Scott, Fa’asiu Fuata’I and Michael Collins were busy at the back and tested the Steamers defence before Matt Faddes made a searing break to set up Naulia Dawai to score.

At 14-6 down at halftime, All Blacks flanker Sam Cane came off the bench for the Steamers to spark an intense head-to-head battle with Otago openside flanker James Lentjes.

Lentjes got the better of Cane by scoring a try early in the second half and leading the Otago defensive effort with a series of crunching tackles.

With their season on the line, Bay of Plenty lifted the tempo and crossed for tries to Lalakai Foketi and Terrence Hepetema to set up a grandstand finish.

Otago weren’t to be denied though, and in a fitting finish, it was their powerful defence that forced a Bay of Plenty error to close out the game.

The victory means that Otago will take on either Wellington or North Harbour in the Championship final as they seek their first title since 1998.

Otago captain Paul Grant said: “I think we deserve to have a smile on our face after a tough game. The crowd helped us home at the end. We had to keep our defence strong as they came at us.”

Otago 27 (Tom Franklin, James Lentjes tries, Fletcher Smith 3 con, pen, Scott Eade pen) Bay of Plenty 20 (Lalakai Foketi, Terrence Hepetema tries, Dan Hollinshead 2 pen, con, Te Aihe Toma con)
HT: 14-6