North Otago coach Barry Stevens knows the full judgement on the value of the Canadian tour will not be made until after the Heartland Championship, but he believes his team is on the right track.
The Old Golds returned from their big tour on Sunday, and are now just eight days away from the season opener against Mid Canterbury in Ashburton.
Spending two weeks in Canada was as much about team bonding and player development as it was about results, and the coach was happy with what he saw in that regard.
“I think it was a success, and we achieved what we wanted to achieve,” Stevens told the Oamaru Mail.
“The boys came together well as a touring group, and our rugby developed as we went on.
“The second half of the last game was some of the best rugby we played all tour, and that should springboard us nicely into the Heartland season.”
North Otago opened with a 54-14 win over a Canadian under-20 selection before falling to a 22-12 loss to the Prairie Wolf Pack and ending the tour with a 22-22 draw with the British Columbia Bears.
Stevens said the Old Golds played generally well against teams that might have lacked some of the basic skills of New Zealand sides but made up for that with size and physicality.
“To be totally honest, the standard was probably a bit better than what I expected.
“Prairie Wolf Pack, who beat us, had five Canadian internationals in their side.
“I think we competed pretty well, and I was comfortable with how we played under pressure. There were some big, physical players over there.”
Everyone in the North Otago squad played well in patches, Stevens said.
Classy halfback Robbie Smith continued his good club form from Maheno’s fairytale season, and showed his versatility by spending some time at first five-eighth.
St Kevin’s College old boy Sione Misiloi started all three games at No8 and quickly became an integral part of the team, while University A midfield back Shae Tucker and Taieri first five-eighth Josh Casey settled into the team well.
Old Boys backs Inoke Naufahu and Lemi Masoe both suffered shoulder injuries but will hopefully be fine by next week.
The touring squad will now be joined by a bunch of players – Jared Whitburn, Mat Duff, Oscar Pamment, Simon Lilicama, Matt Vocea, Siosiua Ngalo and Samisoni Tongotongo – who were unavailable for the tour.
Talented young Old Boys forward Filipo Veamatahau is also on the comeback trail after a knee injury ended his club season.
The North Otago Development squad has a game in Oamaru this weekend, so some of those players will get a useful run before the Heartland Championship.