Bay hold on in thriller

Getty Images     06 Sep 2008     Getty Images

The Steamers led 24-0 at halftime and weathered a second-half Otago revival to gain their fifth win in six matches.

A crowd of 13,578 cheered the Bay to victory, a far cry from its thirteenth placing in the competition last year.

Loose forwards Colin Bourke and Tanerau Latimer were inspirational, Mike Delany was cool and composed at first five-eighth and Jamie Nutbrown, in his last game for the Bay, was tigerish at halfback.

It was Otago's second consecutive loss and unless, it can play with more sustained aggression and intensity, it faces a bleak season.

Bay scored four tries to two and, while Otago deserved credit for its second half fightback, the Steamers' victory was richly deserved.

Fullback Zar Lawrence was a late withdrawal from the Bay of Plenty side in a match which began in light drizzle.

The Steamers dominated the opening stages and scored the first try after seven minutes. Locks Calum Retallick and John Moore combined in an interchange of passing and flanker Latimer took the last pass and crashed over in the corner. Delany converted splendidly and the Bay led 7-0.

Otago finally made its first foray into Bay of Plenty territory after 15 minutes but Chris Noakes was wide with a penalty attempt from 30 metres.

Bay of Plenty continued to have a territorial advantage and Delany extended its lead to 10-0 with a 22-metre penalty after 22 minutes.

There was more joy for the Steamers nine minutes later when Nutbrown took a quick tap penalty and Retallick crashed through some weak tackling to score by the posts. Delany converted and the Bay led 17-0.

Bay of Plenty scored one of the tries of the season after 37 minutes when Delany broke clear from his 22, carved through the Otago defence, linked with Colin Bourke and Nutbrown finished it off with a try under the posts. Delany converted the try he initiated to make it 24-0.

That was the halftime score and Bay of Plenty, much more urgent and aggressive, was well worth its lead.

Otago wasted no time in hitting back in the second spell as halfback Toby Morland broke through a ruck, Aaron Bancroft carried on and lock Tom Donnelly finished off the try. Noakes converted to make it 24-7.

Otago continued its relentless attack and captain and flanker Craig Newby strolled through a gap on the blind side to score. Noakes converted and, eight minutes into the half, Otago had trimmed the Bay lead to 24-14.

Evidence that the momentum had swung to Otago was highlighted when Noakes kicked a penalty from 55 metres, the ball striking the crossbar before bouncing over, and Otago was within a converted try of its opponent.

It came even closer 17 minutes from the end when Noakes kicked his second penalty, from 30 metres, to reduce the deficit to 24-20.

There was another twist in the match after 27minutes when the Bay forwards pounded at the Otago line, the ball was released and Delany ran on the angle to score in the corner. He converted his own try to make it 31-20.

Otago attacked desperately in the final minutes but there was no way through a tired but dedicated defence.

Bay of Plenty 31 (Tanerau Latimer, Calum Retallick, Jamie Nutbrown, Mike Delany tries, Delany 4 conversions, penalty goal); Otago 20 (Tom Donnelly, Craig Newby tries, Chris Noakes 2 conversions, 2 penalty goals)