In Ranfurly Shield challenges, history tells us that inspired Heartland sides generally manage to stay in touch for the first half before running out of steam in the second.
So when Canterbury was up 45-0 against North Otago at halftime last Friday, a blowout was looking likely.
Although the result was never in doubt, a gutsy North Otago showed plenty of fight to restrict the final score to 71-7.
North Otago coach Jason Forrest said he took plenty away from the game.
“It’s probably the first shield game I’ve been involved in where the second half was better than the first,” he said.
“We were a little bit worried, without showing it to the boys, at halftime.
“So I couldn’t be prouder of .. the way they stuck at it and showed some real ticker.”
North Otago players did not miss a large number of tackles, but they struggled to deal with the quick hands and off-loading game of the Canterbury players.
“Once we adjusted to that in the second half and let them have the gain-line, it shut them down a little bit,” Forrest said.
“[Canterbury] is just a machine. They just keep producing quality rugby players.”
There were a few highlights for the small group of North Otago supporters permitted to attend the game in Christchurch under Covid-19 Alert Level 2 restrictions.
Replacement forward Josh Hayward scored North Otago’s only try, and for a brief moment looked like he would bag another when he intercepted a pass and ran 50m.
The former Waitaki Boys’ High School pupil was happy to get his name on the scoreboard in a shield challenge.
“I really just wanted to get a try and put some points on the board,” Hayward said.
“The opportunity came to me so I stretched out and got it. It was an awesome feeling in a Ranfurly Shield challenge.”
The improved showing by the Old Golds in the second half was down to spreadingthe defensive line wider, he said.
“The speed and the physicality together was really tough to handle, but other than that it was pretty good.
“They only really got us on the outside in the first half.”
Midfielder Sam Tatupu went on a few rampaging runs and prop Kelepi Funaki won plenty of collisions with his powerful ball carries.
Junior Fakatoufifita popped up all over the field on attack and defence, as did halfback Robbie Smith.
Several veteran players only made themselves available for the shield game, and their spots will be taken by younger players from club rugby for the Hanan Shield matches against South and Mid Canterbury.
An opposed training session with Otago last month and the game against Canterbury were “hugely beneficial” in the preparing for the upcoming fixtures, Forrest said.
North Otago will take on Otago Country in Twizel at 2pm this Saturday as a warm-up.
North Otago team to play Otago Country
Robbie Richardson, Jake Greenslade, Kelepi Funaki, Epineri Logavatu, Josh Hayward, Cameron Rowland, Marcus Balchin, Junior Fakatoufifita, Mataitini Feke, Kayne Middleton, Mathew Vocea, Taina Tamou, Sam Tatupu, Sione Kavatoe, Josh Phipps; Reserves, Jack Kelly, Bailey Templeton, Toni Taufa, Tayne Russell, Blake Welsh, Tarn Crow, Ben Paton, Antonio Misiloi.