OLD GOLDS WRAP
Two tough games to start the season – and you cannot ask much more than winning them both.
North Otago had to fight for a 34-33 win in a nail-biter against Mid Canterbury in Ashburton, and it says something for the composure and self-belief in this team that it got over the line, when last year we might be digesting a narrow loss.
Young first five-eighth Josh Buchan scored a sizzling try in the first half, and North Otago held a 10-7 lead at halftime.
The teams traded tries, but Mid Canterbury seemed to hold the whip hand when it led 33-27 with time nearly up.
Pleasingly, there was no panic in the ranks of the Old Golds. Power forwards Mika Mafi and Ralph Darling made the yards, winger Simon Lilicama was on hand to score the try, and Buchan showed coolness under pressure to land the winning conversion.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
This is shaping to be one of the most impressive North Otago forward packs in recent times.
Star No 8 Mika Mafi had another big game, showing his strength right across the park, and front-row tyros Ralph Darling and Sam Sturgess got involved in everything.
In the backs, Taina Tamou again showed his class at second five, while Paul Tupai was organised on defence.
“I’m certainly happy to be two from two. We did it the hard way with a bit of a sluggish start and a lot of mistakes, but the boys got together and away they went. There was some good composure and patience in there. There’s already a very good culture and self-belief in this group. They believe in what we’re doing, and they know how we want to do things. We’ve got leaders in there who really grabbed the bull by the horns. It’s another big game this weekend and we need to keep going with the right attitude.” – Nigel Walsh
OTHER HEARTLAND GAMES
There was a significant result in Westport, where centre Dean Church scored a hat trick of tries in King Country’s 30-28 win over Buller. That was a second straight loss for favoured Buller, and a second straight win for the Rams, the only team to have made a perfect start to the season, with not only two wins but two bonus points as well.
Wanganui got a bit of a fright before edging West Coast 33-21, while South Canterbury laboured for a while before scoring four tries in the last 13 minutes to beat Poverty Bay 40-11.
Thames Valley beat Wairarapa-Bush 44-32, and Horowhenua-Kapiti thumped East Coast 46-8.
OTHER REP GAMES
North Otago A: Suffered a gut-wrenching 40-39 loss to Mid Canterbury in Ashburton. Halfback Kieran McClea led North Otago with three tries and two conversions. Jack Williams, Isaac Shields, Kafa Katoa and Logan Dunlop scored the other tries.
Under-18: Lost to Mid Canterbury 15-13, as the home side kicked a penalty with the last play. Stand-out performers were backs Bayley Sullivan and Ryley MacColl.
Under-13: Lost to Mid Canterbury 47-33. Hotili Asi and Matt Woodhouse shone in the backs, and Jake Roney and Lochie Mavor were impressive over the ball and in defence.
Under-12: Lost to North Canterbury 57-12. Competed well, and score blew out. Max Fatafehi and Hozayah Taylor scored good tries.
North Otago’s under-14 and under-16 teams did not play their games against Mid Canterbury due to school tournament week and players not being available.
It’s a long way to Taumarunui – but the Old Golds will happily clock up the miles if they can bank a third straight win.
Both North Otago and King Country can make it three out of three to start the season, so both should be up for this game.
Recent games between the sides have been tight. North Otago won 28-26 in Oamaru last year, and the 2016 round robin clash in Te Kuiti was a weird 4-4 stalemate under the experimental scoring system used that year.
The teams also met in both the 2015 and 2016 Lochore Cup finals.
Lock Jared Whitburn remains sidelined with a head knock, and fellow lock Josh Clark – called back in last week as a loan player.
North Otago 34 (Josh Buchan, Ralph Darling, Inoke Naufahu, Junior Fakatoufifita, Simon Lilicama tries; Buchan 3 con, pen), Mid Canterbury 33 (Dan Fransen 2, Tom Heywood, Timoci Nabakeke, Seta Koroitamana tries; Andrew Letham 4 con). Halftime: North Otago 10-7.