Taniwha book a place in the Mitre 10 Cup championship final

Rugby

Skipper Jordan Olsen stretches to score for Northland after peeling off a lineout maul in his side’s 32-19 win over Otago.
Photo / Otago Daily Times

One more push and Northland could play in the Mitre 10 Cup premiership next season.

The team’s 32-19 semifinal win over Otago on Friday

evoked memories of champion Cambridge blues teams and players of the past and tugged at the heartstrings of Taniwha supporters.

After losing the Ranfurly Shield challenge to Hawke’s Bay in Napier a month ago, Northland will lock horns with the same opponent in the Mitre 10 Cup championship final at the same venue on Friday.

The Magpies crushed Taranaki 59-23 in the other semifinal on Saturday while Auckland will host Tasman in the Premiership final at Eden Park on Saturday.

North Harbour will be demoted to the championship next season after finishing last in the premiership table and the winner of the Hawke’s Bay and Northland match will play in the top flight in 2021.

Northland inflicted the embarrassing down-trou on Otago that, even with genuine talent laden across the park, was guilty of bringing a knife to a gunfight at Forsyth Barr Stadium on Friday night.

Otago went pop and Northland went bang and perhaps the only saving grace for the home side was that their spiritual ground was near-empty for the do-or-die clash.

In the years gone by when Northland’s only concern seemed to not finish cellar dwellers, the outcome of Friday’s semifinal would have been a foregone conclusion.

The team would have returned with valuable airports and nothing much else.

But this year and in particular when it mattered the most, the Cambridge blue found an edge as mentor George Konia and his trusted lieutenants have put together a squad with a backbone and an ability to work through the hard times and fight for victories.

Skipper Jordan Olsen was one of the tryscorers and lauded the way his side finished the game.

While defensive played a big part in the win, he said games could not be won if points were not scored.

“We showed at the start of the season that we can defend well and once we got out attack combination working, it opened the doors for us. Looking ahead, Hawke’s Bay is at the top of the table for a reason.

“They have played a lot of good footy this season and for the final, it’s just about who can really execute on the field,” Olsen said.

Northland players jubilant after defeating Otago to reach the final for the first time in many years.
Photo / Otago Daily Times
Northland players jubilant after defeating Otago to reach the final for the first time in many years.
Photo / Otago Daily Times

The much-needed Super Rugby and Mitre 10 Cup experience for a number of Northland players showed in the way the team has played this season, he said.

This season has been a highlight of his career and his enjoyed the camaraderie of his teammates and the friendship forged with them, both on and off the field.

Otago was beaten to the punch throughout almost the entirety of this captivating contest.

Northland’s defence seemed to go up a notch in every game and combatants with a penchant for heavy artillery like Tom Robinson, Matt Matich, and Josh Goodhue dug their heels in at the breakdown.

Quite simply, Goodhue was nails. He didn’t care how he stopped opponents as long as he did. Robinson took it as a personal affront if his opponent didn’t have a go at him.

These players will form a strong Northland loose forward corps in the final this weekend.

The backs indulged in some entertaining rugby as well in Dunedin on Friday.

The wonderfully-balanced runner Jone Macilai gave a warning of the thunderous force he was when he swatted away Michael Collins then stepped inside and straight to the tryline.

Whereas Rene Ranger was, to all intents and purposes, a Panzer tank in the Cambridge blue: fast, unstoppable, and capable of destroying attackers at will.

The position of centre is becoming the domain of bigger men like Ranger whose large frame can bend the line or push their hands through contact for offloads.

Defensive reads and execution are repeat demands which the veteran centre is doing well.

Two tries to Jona Nareki and Josh Timu gave Otago a 12-10 lead at halftime but whatever flow and rhythm they had up until then dried up deep into the game.

Jona Nareki scores for Otago but couldn't help his side win over Northland in the Mitre 10 Championship semi final in Dunedin.
Photo / Otago Daily Times
Jona Nareki scores for Otago but couldn’t help his side win over Northland in the Mitre 10 Championship semi final in Dunedin.
Photo / Otago Daily Times

The confidence to attack wobbled and they pretty much opened the door for Northland and invited them back into the game.

The Taniwha kept the ball in hand, ran hard and straight up the middle before pushing it wide. Their explosive athletes using a combination of their strength, pace and skill to damage the opposition.

Otago had no answer to that. They couldn’t deal with the pace of the Northland attack and they couldn’t get defenders to where they needed to be when the offloads were astutely used.

It was classic Northland rugby. Halfback Sam Nock provided the much-needed zing but unfortunately suffered a hamstring while scoring a try and may not play this weekend.

A fit and firing Nock is crucial for the crowning match, when his general awareness and tactical brilliance will be so needed.

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