On Sunday the Spirit smashed North Harbour 42-17 in the semifinal at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin. The hosts were ahead 37-5 at halftime.
Openside flanker Leah Miles played a blinder, scoring a try and making repeat breaks. She wasn't surprised by how easily they got the job done.
“Honestly, no. When we put things together we have that potential,” Miles responded.
“At halftime it was a really good feeling but we had to reset. It’s always a new game in the second forty. Credit to Harbour they scored a couple of tries at the end.”
Otago will play Hawke’s Bay in the Championship decider this Saturday in Balclutha. Miles made her Otago debut in a 29-20 win against the Tui in 2020.
Otago beat Hawke’s Bay in the first game of the Championship this season, 44-22 in Hastings. Wing Oceana Campbell scored three tries.
“That game was a long time ago so we expect a greater challenge from Hawke’s Bay. I remember their No8 Gemma Woods, a big runner and their halfback and first five are awesome,” Miles said.
Former Black Ferns Emma Jensen and Krysten Cottrell combine in the halves for Hawke’s Bay while Miles is likely to mark Laurae Blake who brings a decade of experience to the table.
“The biggest thing I’ve learnt this year is when to pick my battles. It’s hard as a flanker not going for everything you see,” Miles said.
“Sometimes some personal restraint, trusting team systems, and sticking to your job is better than jumping into everything.
“My favourite flankers growing up were Richie McCaw and Les Elder. Les was captain of Black Ferns, had a child and came back to the game which is incredible. I like the way she captains with that real follow me attitude.”
Miles jumped into rugby from the age of four in Mahana, about 25km out of Nelson. She started as a hooker at the Rangers club with her two best mates. When she moved to Waimea Intermediate she shifted to the Wanderers club.
At Waimea College she converted into a loose forward. In her final year at high school, in 2019, she helped Waimea win the local championship, defeating Motueka High School in the final.
Miles is in her third year of studying a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and Sports and Exercise Science at Otago University. She plays for the University club and helped them win the senior club championship in 2020.
A great influence on her career has been former Black Ferns loose forward and captain Helen Littleworth.
“She’s been a massive help this year as my club coach and physio. I only played two club games this year because I had a hamstring injury. It might have been zero if it wasn’t for Helen.
“She’s always offering tidbits of advice. She’s cool, calm and collected, and really understands the game.”
Otago have developed a great understanding in 2022. Miles scored a try in the 39-7 win over Tasman while their biggest win of the season was 55-15 against Taranaki.
Halfback/first five Maia Joseph was leading the Fiao'o Faamausili best and fairest standings prior to injury a few games ago.
Wing Oliva Fowler scored two cracking tries in the semi-final, replacing Oceana Campbell who flourished in the early rounds.
Centre Cheyenne Cunningham is a shepherd who drives five hours return, at least twice a week, from Waitaki to Dundien to train and play. Cunningham is the leading try scorer in the Farah Palmer Cup with 8.
Hooker Tegan Hollows and lock Juile Gorinski have both reached 50 appearances for Otago this season.
“There’s a lot of banter between the girls from different clubs but we’ve got genuine friendships in this team. We enjoy each other's company as much off the field as we do on the field,” Miles enthused.
Otago were in the first three of the first four championship finals. They were beaten by Bay of Plenty in 2017 and Wellington in 2018. In 2020 they toppled Hawke’s Bay 24-20. Hawke’s Bay was beaten by Manawatū in the 2021 decider.