OLD GOLDS WRAP
A 36-29, six-tries-to-five loss to the old enemy in Timaru, so the Hanan Shield stays in South Canterbury’s hands.
Following something of a pattern this season, North Otago fell into an early hole by conceding three quick tries, before Dan Lewis snaffled a boot ahead to score the Old Golds’ first try, and Sala Halaleva grabbed the second.
South Canterbury scored again before the break, and then held 29-15 and 36-22 leads to all but take control of the game.
North Otago took some solace from a late fightback, completely dominating the final quarter and getting agonisingly close to at least a draw.
Young fullback Josh Buchan made a huge break in the dying minutes and believed he had scored, but the assistant referee felt otherwise.
The loss leaves North Otago eighth in the Heartland Championship but just three points off third.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Veteran midfielder Lemi Masoe celebrated his 99th first-class game with a big performance and a pair of tries, and forwards Ralph Darling and Josh Clark produced their usual mighty efforts.
And how about Mika Mafi. The blockbusting No 8 unexpectedly played 78 minutes for Otago on Thursday night, and backed up with another wholehearted performance for the Old Golds.
Some are not comfortable with a system that allows a player to represent two different provinces in the space of 48 hours, but you can only admire Mafi’s commitment and energy.
OTHER HEARTLAND GAMES
Another interesting weekend that leaves the race for the playoffs wide open.
Most intriguingly, Wanganui suffered a second straight loss. Jared Percival kicked a last-second penalty to lead Mid Canterbury to a 40-39 win in an Ashburton thriller.
There was another upset in Gisborne, where resurgent Poverty Bay beat West Coast 36-19.
Horowhenua-Kapiti maintained second spot with a 52-3 shellacking of hapless East Coast in Otaki, Buller clung on for a 29-24 win over Wairarapa-Bush in Westport, and dark horse Thames Valley beat King Country 45-36 in Te Kuiti.
“The boys played well, and they played hard. It’s been a while since we’ve been that close to a good South Canterbury side. We probably just let them get away too early. We’re disappointed we lost. But another couple of bonus points helped. That’s keeping us in contention. It just means the next two game are even more crucial. A couple of good wins and we’re straight back in the hunt.” – Nigel Walsh
OTHER REP GAMES
Development: Beat South Canterbury 43-31 in Timaru. Another fine performance from the D squad, which can claim the Hanan Cup with victory in the rematch this Saturday. Openside flanker Morgan Dawes had a storming game, prop Kelepi Funaki played well on his return for the national under-19 tournament, and Brady Kingan looked sharp at halfback.
Under-18: Lost to Otago 75-0 in Oamaru. Tough day out against a big side. Peter Armstrong and Ben McCarthy played well. Now off to tournament in Christchurch.
Under-16: Lost to Otago 39-17 in Oamaru. Looked good in the first half before dropping away. Logan Wilson scored a cracking try, and Bryden Skinner and Tupou Fifita continued their fine form. Tournament starts in Oamaru on Thursday.
Under-14: Lost to South Canterbury 68-20 in Timaru. Isaac Clunie and Henry Kay looked good in the backs, and forwards Sebastian Whiston and Johanne Edzes played well against a good opposition. Off to Ashburton to play Mid Canterbury and Ellesmere in tournament this weekend.
North Otago will start as the favourite at home against Poverty Bay, but must be wary of a visiting side that has improved recently. A feature of the Old Golds’ season has been their ability to bank bonus points – they have six, the most in the the competition – and a healthy five-pointer tomorrow will be just the ticket.