Matthew Vocea experienced a successful year with the St Kevin’s College First XV and his first taste of Heartland Rugby this season.
The pacey wing arrived in New Zealand on a rugby scholarship from Fiji last year and has been asking questions of weary defences ever since.
The 2014 campaign proved to be St Kevin’s finest in recent memory, with three wins over old enemy Waitaki Boys’ and a thrilling 16-10 victory over Burnside High School that sent them to Rotorua with the chance of becoming the top co-ed school in the country.
SKC’s dream ended with a 15-14 loss to Cambridge High School but the 18-year-old’s individual efforts were enough to earn a call up to the North Otago Development Squad.
Vocea was soon elevated to the senior side and came in to his own in the later stages of the campaign with a try against East Coast in the last round-robin fixture to secure a Lochore Cup semi-final place for the Old Golds.
Vocea said the step-up to Heartland level was a challenge, but the guidance he received from his team mates and coaches ensured the transition went smoothly.
“It was OK, it was very physical, quicker and tough,” he said.
“They helped me a lot on the field, my attacking and ball skills and speed.”
The youngster’s inspirational form continued against South Canterbury the following weekend in Timaru, where he lined up against a familiar face in St Kevin’s assistant coach Kurt Rooney.
The year 13 student recorded the only try of the contest in a narrow 16-12 win to secure a home final against Wanganui.
North Otago were trailing 14-7 in the final before Vocea touched down in the corner with an unconverted try to offer his side a lifeline.
Most young players would be forgiven for allowing a final-try-scoring-moment to inflate their ego, but Vocea has mixed feelings.
“It’s hard luck I scored in the corner, I should have ran inside but I’d already crossed the line.”
“I felt really happy, scoring a try and Heartland level, it was really exciting and awesome for me.”
The Old Golds season came to a disappointing end when first five-eighth Stephen Fenemor steered a last second penalty wide of the post but Vocea reflected positively on his first season of Heartland competition, despite the final loss, and is hoping to begin a building apprenticeship when he leaves school, while continuing to concentrate on rugby.
“Wearing the medal, it was the first time for me to wear a medal and scoring the try was good,” he said.
“Hopefully I’ll play club rugby here in Oamaru next year and do a building apprenticeship.”
By JAMES FORD
PHOTO: JAMES FORD – Matthew Vocea has been in fine form for St Kevin’s College and North Otago this year.