Rugby Union: Wilson serves notice

Otago Highlanders 19 Auckland Blues 13
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The Independent Online
IT HAS taken them three years of sheer effort, but the Highlanders at last claimed the scalp of their arch-rivals on the opening weekend of the Super 12 yesterday. Carisbrook Stadium celebrated in blood-curdling song as the "House of Pain" was able to savour some classic fare as well as the traditional warfare.

It took nearly half an hour for the first score, a penalty from Adrian Cashmore, as packs and backs crashed into each other in a war of attrition between the respective 22-metre defensive ditches. The opposing centres, Eroni Clarke and Craig Innes, Jeremy Stanley and Pita Alatini, looked impregnable as they put in one crunching tackle after another. No wonder, despite Auckland's slight advantage in territory, things were even at half-time after Tony Brown pulled back a penalty.

All changed in the first 75 seconds of the second half and the central player was Jeff Wilson. All Black colleagues Taine Randell and Josh Kronfeld were magnificent throughout, but it was Wilson, significantly playing at full-back, whose chip ahead went to Xavier Rush, and Wilson's tackle which turned him and regathered possession. The subsequent break by Anton Oliver in Otago's all All Black front row was deftly finished by the scrum- half Byron Kelliher.

Auckland came back with a Carlos Spencer try and the South Islanders were often hanging on to a slender three-point lead. Their resolve in the last 15 minutes spoke volumes.

The country had been unimpressed with the rather dull opening dish of last season's runners up, Canterbury, walloping Waikato into 48-3 submission. And there were little more than yawns as the Cats' full-back Kobus Engelbrecht continued ACT Brumbies' South African famine with a punishing display of eight successful kicks from nine in Johannesburg. Australian honour was partially restored when Queensland opened their campaign in Brisbane with an 11-0 success over Wellington, while New South Wales earned a creditable 13-13 draw against the Sharks in Durban. Meanwhile, the all-South African contest in Pretoria saw Western Stormers blow away Northern Bulls 42-19.

But all that is best about the Super 12 was provided by Auckland and Otago. They may not enjoy the British attitude to offside, far less the way pile-ups at the breakdown persist, despite 20 years of law changes. But what has not changed is that if you dive over the top you are asking to be rucked out of the way. Vigorously.

Otago: J Wilson; B Lima (B Laney, 62), J Stanley, P Alatini, R Ropati; A Brown, B Kelliher; C Hoeft, A Oliver, K Meeuws, B Timmins, J Blaikie, T Randell (capt), I Maka (K Middleton, 55), J Kronfeld.

Auckland: A Cashmore; J Vidiri, E Clarke (D Howlett, 74), C Innes (R Tapoki, 79), M Ellis; C Spencer, M Robinson; P Thomson (J Barrell, 57), P Mitchell (S McFarland, 57), C Dowd, G Taylor, C Reichelmann, M Jones (capt), X Rush, J Collins.

Referee: S Walsh (Wellington).