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Victory sees Otago grab home semi-final

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Sportal.co.nz     13 Oct 2013     Getty Images

The runaway points scorer in the competition, Parker kicked six penalties and two conversions for his fourth 20-point match of the season as the hosts secured their 21st victory over Auckland in 82 attempts.

His 22-point haul ensured Parker finished the regular season with 156 points to sit in second behind coach Tony Brown, who scored 196 points in 1998 for the province. Parker set a new season record of successful penalty kicks in a season for Otago with 36, five more than the previous record he set in 2012.

Otago were rewarded for their positive brand of football with a 21-18 half-time lead that was reduced late in the half by a piece of tactical ineptitude from substitute Peter Breen.

Otago were penalised frequently in the opening half as they had been all season. Moala's first try came on the back of four penalty advantages from referee Jonathon White before the winger finally doted down.

However they recovered well and with the majority of possession in the second half they ensured Auckland wouldn't be able to secure a victory despite their best efforts.

There looked to be a reluctance from Auckland to play their dynamic style of rugby that saw them secure an almighty 39-19 victory over Canterbury two weeks ago.

Instead, with their place in the premiership semi-finals confirmed, Auckland looked happy to defend for the first three quarters of the match. When Moala scored his second try the belief had returned for Auckland, but by then it was too little too late for the premiership contenders.

The result means Otago snatched hosting rights for the second championship semi-final from Hawke's Bay, a fitting degree of revenge for the latter's seizure of the Ranfurly Shield earlier in their last encounter. Auckland meanwhile travel to Addington to play Canterbury on Saturday.

Simon Hickey scored Auckland's first points early in the first half before Buxton Popoali'i's superbly angled run gave Otago their first lead of the afternoon, one they wouldn't surrender for the rest of the match.

Points flowed at Forsyth Barr Stadium as they have done all season. Moala's first try ensured Otago were kept honest as they went in search for a confidence-boosting result. Possession breeds attacking play and both sides continued to score freely until half-time, when Otago looked to take a 21-15 half-time lead only for Breen to run the ball from a scrum after the hooter sounded. An ensuing penalty saw Hickey reduce the gap to three as both teams trudged off.

Hickey kicked Auckland level for captain Paul Grant scored his third ITM Cup try and Otago's third of the afternoon as Otago capitalised on a second wave of fluency early in the second half. Parker continued that trend with three second half penalties to stretch out to a 37-21 lead.

Moala's second try illustrated their potency with the ball as they reduced the deficit to nine with 11 minutes remaining. Lolagi Visinia then scored on the buzzer for Auckland to secure two bonus points, for scoring four tries and finishing within seven points, to leave Dunedin with plenty of positives despite the defeat.

Otago 37 (Buxton Popoali'i, Tom Donnelly, Paul Grant tries; Hayden Parker 2 con, 6 pen) Auckland 33 (George Moala 2, Hadleigh Parkes, Lolagi Visinia tries; Simon Hickey 2 con, 3 pen) HT: 21-15.