INDEPENDENT NEWS

SHIELD fever overwhelms Otago- SCOOP NPC UPDATE

Published: Sun 1 Oct 2000 01:23 AM
SCOOP NPC UPDATE: SHIELD FEVER OVERWHELMS OTAGO
Article: Mathew Loh 30.9.00
CANTERBURY underlined their world class ability in a thrilling southern derby in which they repulsed the shield challenge of arch-rivals Otago 29-26 at Christchurch's Jade Stadium on Saturday night.
In their first defence of the famous log they wrenched from Waikato's grasp last week Canterbury were almost upset by the ferocity of the challenge from Otago who were despertate to take the shield home to Dunedin for the first time since 1957.
Jam-packed with All Blacks, including world class loosies Josh Kronfeld and Taine Randell, Otago have underachieved all season but inspired by the mystique of New Zealand's most lauded sporting trophy they lifted their game and led with only minutes remaining.
For the fan it a sensational spectacle of hard-out attacking rugby nullified by desperation defence and rugged committment. Leading the charge for the challengers were loosies Kronfeld, Randell and captain Kelvin Middleton while Tony Brown and South African fullback Justin Swart had exceptional games.
Thriving on the pressure of Ranfurly shield rugby New Zealand colts custodian Ben Blair oozed potential at the back while Andrew Mehrtens matched up to his in-form opposite Brown. But as usual it was the Canterbury eight which withstood immense pressure before upping the tempo in the last 10 minutes to inspire a fabulous come-from-behind victory.
While singling out a particular player from the red and black pack is difficult blindside flanker Reuben Thorne was nothing short of superb in both the tight and in open play, where at one stage he wowed the crowd with a deft reverse pass that put his support into space and led to a crucial try to Fijian wing Marika Vunibaka.
For the challengers wing Hayden Reid, Swart and Byron Kelleher - who again struggled but show glimpses of his undoubted talent - scored while Brown landed a drop goal, a conversion and two penalties.
But despite playing their playing their best rugby of the season it wasn't enough for Otago who in the end had to bow to a victorious Canterbury team who retained the shield on the back of two tries to Vunibaka, one to Caleb Ralph and a conversion and four penalties to Blair.
In other NPC 1st division action Wellington - with Jonah Lomu in an inspirational mood scoring two tries and making several crushing tackles - were pushed hard by Southland in Invercargill before taking control to secure a crucial 28-21 win.
In addition to Lomu's brace Wellington's points came from tries to Tana Umaga and the outstanding Jerry Collins while David Holwell nailed four out of four conversions.
Southland had tries to Wellington loan player and Petone stalwart Alex Telea and stand-in skipper Steve Jackson and one conversion and three penalties were kicked by David Hill.
And in what will be last big game at Hamilton's Rugby park before development the home side failed to farewell their loyal home fans in style succumbing to a disappointing 24-13 loss to their northern neighbours, Auckland.
Other NPC matches saw Hawke's Bay beat Thames Valley 12-8; Bay of Plenty thrashed Mid- Canterbury 55-9; Wanganui upset Manawatu 22-6 to cause utter depression in Palmerston North; Nelson Bays beat rivals Marlborough 38-31; Poverty Bay beat South Canterbury 27-25 and in the battle of the wop wops East Coast beat West Coast 32-27.

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