Rugby Union: Bari dazzles brave Bath
For Super-12 purposes, the cream of New Zealand's south island like to be known as the Otago Highlanders. Last night, the Kiwi tourists decided to select from the foothills of their astonishingly gifted squad rather than the mighty peaks, but they still operated in an atmosphere far too rarified for a similarly under-strength Bath.
Having left their biggest guns back home in Dunedin - Otago decided that Jeff Wilson, Josh Kronfeld and the rest of their regular international brigade might benefit from a few weeks of sun, sand and surf rather than a trawl through the British winter - the visitors went into the match with yet more of their class act brigade on the sidelines. No Taine Randell, no Kupu Vanisi, no Simon Culhane.
As a result, Bath's own second-string were able to meet the challenge head on and, for long periods at least, thrive rather than merely survive. With three full caps in the back row, Kevin Yates performing strikingly on the loose head and Rich Butland playing a shrewd hand at outside-half, they made life uncomfortable for a side who had averaged 50 plus points a game in their previous four tour encounters.
It was not, however, quite enough. Otago possessed fast and forthright strike runners on both wings in Michael Hanning and the brilliant Fijian Manasa Bari, and the continuity supplied by Duncan Blaikie, their open- side flanker, made them a threat from every quarter of the pitch.
Hanning and Blaikie played important roles in the first of their side's five tries on 19 minutes, Reuben Parkinson capitalising on the opening they created to slip past Richard Webster in a 20-metre run to the line. Hanning screeched over six minutes later, following a smart close pass from Brendan Laney, and when Bari left no fewer than four opponents looking dazed and confused on the left touchline, a rout looked imminent.
But Bath's young wannabes, bolstered last night by the debut of the massive Argentinian lock, German Llanes, have looked more resolute than their elders and betters in the first team on several occasions this season and even though Blaikie and Lio Falaniko claimed corner-flag tries after the break, the locals dug deep once again to frustrate the tourists in the final quarter.
Webster, not best pleased at finding his league and cup opportunities at a premium following a bright start last autumn, went over to add to Matt Perry's beautifully finished first-half score and Butland's accurate boot ensured respectability.
Bath: Tries Perry, Webster; Conversion: Butland; Penalty: Butland; Drop goal: Butland.
Otago: Tries Parkinson, Hanning, Bari, Blaikie, Falaniko; Conversions Laney 3.
Bath: C Tyrer; M Perry, J Ewens, J Pritchard, J Greenlees; R Butland, C Harrison; K Yates, G French, J Mallett (C Horsman, 55) G Llanes, B Cusack, R Webster, E Peters (capt), A Robinson.
Otago: B Laney; M Hanning, J Wright, R Parkinson, M Bari; A McEwen, B McCormack (S Forster, 25) ; M Mika, D Heaps, N Moore (K Meuws, 50), S Maling (J Blaikie, 67), J Cullen, L Falaniko (A Tiatia, 51), K Middleton, D Blaikie.
Referee: N Williams (Wales).
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