NPC : Waikato edge Otago in semi final thriller
Huw Turner
October 19, 2002

This season's NPC final will be an all North Island affair after Waikato beat Otago 41 - 37 in a thrilling semi final in Hamilton on Saturday evening.

In 80 minutes of all out attack, desperate defence and magnificent try scoring action , perhaps the only real difference between the sides was the goalkicking of Bruce Reihana for Waikato and Blair Feeney for Otago. The former, again taking over the duties for the absent David Hill, could do no wrong, the latter had a horror night , missing a succession of kickable shots at goal which could easily have seen his side home. To make matters worse, his lack of success infected the rest of his game to the extent that the back line , in attack and defence, seemed disjointed and lacking rhythm.

With Deon Muir , Marty Holah and Keith Robinson again in great form, the Waikato forwards put in a mighty collective effort, and outside them the midfield pairing of Keith Lowen and Regan King were magnificent in everything they did in attack. Otago had their own heroes amongst the forwards, Taine Randell, Kelvin Middleton , Sam Harding and Simon Maling, in particular, standing out, although lock Filipo Levi will be disappointed at an effort which lacked some of its recent raw power and energy.

Reihana and Feeney exchanged early penalties before tries from King and Lee , both converted , maintained the scoring equilibrium at the end of the fist quarter. Then Waikato pulled away, tries from Lowen and Holah , again effortlessly converted by Reihana, taking them to a 24-10 interval lead. The margin should have been closer, Feeney missing two relatively straightforward efforts in the dying moments of the half.

In the opening 10 minutes of the second spell Otago came right back into the game, a terrific Harding try and Feeney penalty reducing the arrears to just 6 points. Again, Waikato upped the tempo to put the visitors under enormous pressure. Both Lowen and King scored their second tries towards the end of the third quarter and when Reihana added his second penalty to go with the two further conversions, the game was all but Waikato's. But a Rabeni try after 63 minutes maintained Otago's interest , late efforts from Harding and Lee, both converted , perhaps adding to their frustration at having got so close yet having squandered so many points through lack of a back-up kicker to Feeney.

So Waikato will be back at Rugby park next Saturday evening to meet the challenge of Auckland, and what a match-up that promises to be after the manner in which the Aucklanders disposed of Canterbury in Christchurch.

Scorers :

Waikato : 41 : Tries : King ( 2 ), Lowen ( 2 ), Holah. Conversions : Reihana ( 5 ). Penalties : Reihana ( 2 ).

Otago : 37 : Tries : Lee ( 2 ), Harding ( 2 ), Rabeni. Conversions : Feeney ( 3 ). Penalties : ( 2 ).

Teams :

Waikato : Todd Miller, Roger Randle, Regan King, Keith Lowen, Bruce Reihana, Derek Maisey, Rhys Duggan, Deon Muir ( captain ), Marty Holah, Jonno Gibbes, Keith Robinson, Sean Hohneck, Deacon Manu, Greg Smith, Michael Collins.
Subs : Loki Crichton, Mark Ranby, Isaac Boss, Steven Bates, Scott Couch, David Briggs, Scott Linklater.

Otago : Neil Brew, Aisea Tuilevu, Ryan Nicholas, Seilala Mapusua, Seru Rabeni, Blair Feeney, Danny Lee, Taine Randell ( captain ), Josh Blackie, Kelvin Middleton, Simon Maling , Filipo Levi, Carl Hayman, Jason MacDonald, Carl Hoeft.

Subs : Nick Fisher, Joe McDonnell, Peter Bowden, Sam Harding, Cory Brown, Sam Young, James Jowsey.

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