The Best of the Day preview piles into the ruck with Mitre 10 Cup Rugby tips for a fascinating semi-final showdown between Otago and Northland.
17:05 (AEDT) @ Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Last meeting: October 23, 2020: Otago 30 d Northland 7 at Forsyth Barr Stadium
Final thoughts: The Best of the Day preview breaks down the first of the 2020 Mitre 10 Cup playoffs: the Championship semi-final between Otago and Northland.
— Mitre 10 Cup (@Mitre10Cup) November 18, 2020
Second-placed Otago take home advantage after winning six of their 10 games. Following a sizzling four-match winning streak that culminated in a drought-breaking victory Canterbury, they lost their last two.
But the Tom Donnelly-coached outfit bounced back from a dismal 32-15 loss to Southland with a gallant showing in a 26-20 final-round defeat to Premiership heavyweights Tasman.
Northland finished third with a 5-5 record. Their place in the playoffs was looking shaky heading into the final round, but the Taniwha snapped a four-match losing run with a stunning 28-17 upset of Premiership side Waikato.
The Taniwha won the second half 14-0 as their dogged defence backed up some electric backline play. Flanker Tom Robinson was immense and replacement flyhalf Johnny Cooper – who starts this week for the injured Dan Hawkins – impressed in a composed display.
Northland’s starting XV is otherwise unchanged. Otago have rearranged their line-up, with Josh Timu moving to centre, Michael Collins going to fullback and Vilimoni Koroi to the wing. Josh Dickson, Sam Fischli and Dylan Nel come into the run-on pack.
Home advantage vital in Otago v Northland rivalry
The teams met under the roof in Dunedin four weeks ago. The hosts cruised to a four-tries-to-one, 30-7 victory. Freedom Vaha’akolo scored the first two tries of the match for Otago, while Northland did not trouble the scorers until the 60th minute.
The teams’ last five clashses have been won by the home team. Northland are searching for the first win at Forsyth Barr Stadium since 2014.
Both provinces are aiming to end long tenures in the second-tier Championship. They will need to overcome poor semi-final records: Northland are 0-3 at the penultimate stage since 2014, while Otago have won just two of their last six semis (and went on to lose both finals). Otago lost an extra-time heart-breaker against Hawke’s Bay at this stage in 2019.
Otago are $1.30 Best of the Day favourites at home. But Northland are a definite threat if they bring the same commitment and enterprise that toppled Waikato. Robinson, Sam Nock and Rene Ranger must lead the way, but the Taniwha have the chops to keep this sudden-death clash close – or even pull off a surprise win.