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Otago No 8 Nasi Manu had a whale of a game against Cantebrury, the team he played eight seasons for.
Canterbury’s season is officially on life support after Otago heaped more misery on their crumbling 2020 campaign.
Otago beat their northern neighbours 23-16 in Christchurch on Friday night, their first win against the red and blacks in 15 years.
Not only does it leave Canterbury’s playoff hopes in tatters, the possibility of relegation for the first time since the competition split into two sections in 2011 is very real.
Fifth in the premiership with 19 points, they could well find themselves last in the premiership by the time round eight wraps up on Sunday.
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Otago flanker Slade McDowall landed the knock-out blow for the visitors, taking a Vilimoni Koroi pass and touching down with eight minutes to play.
And so the visitors go top of the championship at least temporarily, improving to 6-2 and on track to bag a home semifinal.
Canterbury played like a team down on confidence, perhaps not a surprise after Bay of Plenty knocked the stuffing out of them in Tauranga last weekend.
Their forwards again struggled to get over the advantage line, making their ball-runners sitting ducks for Otago defenders when they did fling it wide.
They’ve now mustered just four tries in their past three games, and it won’t get any easier with fixtures against Tasman and Auckland the next fortnight.
Oh what they would do to have former captain Nasi Manu back, the 32-year-old who played eight seasons for the red and blacks.
The Otago No 8 was immense in first provincial game in Christchurch since he finished up with Canterbury in 2014, playing a huge hand in two of the visitors’ tries.
Like candy from a baby, Manu ripped the ball clean from Canterbury pivot Brett Cameron, flicking it wide to wing Jona Nareki to put Sio Tomkinson away.
Canterbury responded through halfback Mitchell Drummond to cut the deficit to 11-10, before Manu landed another punch against his former team, this time in the form of a beaut offload to Koroi.
The fullback went on to score from 40 metres out, beating counterpart Josh McKay with a superb kick and chase, tip-toeing down the touch line.
There was only a blade of grass in it, too, with many in the stands arguing Koroi did indeed step on the chalk.
Cameron responded with a 45m drop goal, and a 68th minute penalty to tie the game up at 16-16, but Canterbury could not convert a couple of late chances and force extra time after McDowall scored.
Those expecting a rip-snorter match on a balmy Christchurch night would have been disappointed, particularly in the first half.
Because outside of three penalty goals, they got a mistake-riddled stop-start 40 minutes which bordered on painful.
You’d have sworn it was a soggy mid-winter’s evening, given the number of handling errors made by both teams
If Otago weren’t throwing forward passes or dropping the ball cold, hooker Liam Coltman was over-cooking lineout throws.
But Canterbury weren’t any better.
They made a hash of two eye-opening opportunities, the first by Fergus Burke, who missed wide-open wing Chay Fihaki with a cross-field kick.
Worse was to come a moment later, when Burke found a half-gap and popped an offload to Ngane Punivai with an open line begging.
But he dropped it cold, as the hosts mustered a lone Burke penalty goal to counter Otago pivot Josh Ioane’s pair of three-pointers.
Otago 23 (Sio Tomkinson, Vilimoni Koroi, Slade McDowall tries; Josh Ioane 2 pen, con) Canterbury 16 (Mitchell Drummond try; Fergus Burke pen, Brett Cameron con, drop goal, pen) HT: 6-3.
MVP points: Nasi Manu 3, Vilimoni Koroi 2, Mitchell Drummond 1