Rain, hail or shine — North Otago turns up to play.
While the team fell short in the Lochore Cup final on Sunday, losing 22-16 to Whanganui, coach Jason Forrest says he could not be prouder of his team.
The Old Golds battled through torrential rain, strong wind, hail and a glimmer of sun
— the worst conditions Forrest had seen during his involvement with the team — and put in a gusty physical performance.
Sitting in the grandstand, Forrest said he could hardly see the game and it was nearly impossible to play into the first half conditions, but the weather did not matter as North Otago ‘‘turned up to play’’.
‘‘It was horrendous and unfortunately the rain stopped at the wrong time . . . there was three or four seasons in one day,’’ Forrest said.
‘‘Three weeks ago up there we got bullied, so we wanted to change that picture. We felt we were the bullies and we were really physical.’’
The Old Golds lacked execution and game management, which let them down all year, and it was a disappointing finish as the team wanted to come away from Whanganui with the win.
But Forrest said he was ‘‘absolutely stoked’’ his side made the top four, after a run of season-ending injuries to ‘‘big time’’ players.
‘‘Just to make the top four was our goal at the start of the year with an inexperienced young group. Yeah we’ve had some old fellas come back into it, but these guys have done a massive effort to get to where they got to and we couldn’t be prouder of them.’’
The 2021 season was a ‘‘stepping stone’’ for players, and keeping them playing North Otago club rugby and giving them a pathway to Heartland was important, he said.
Looking back on the season, Forrest said the team’s massive hit-out beating Mid Canterbury 32-20 and its narrow loss, 33-27, to South Canterbury — the closest any team got to the Meads Cup champion this season — were standouts.
‘‘Our attitude has been really good in the big games. We turned up to the majority of them in regards to how we wanted to play. Like I say, we’ve probably lacked just a little bit of experience and a little bit of game management.’’
It has been a long season for North Otago players, many of whom began pre-season club training in January.
Forrest said he ‘‘couldn’t thank them enough’’ for sticking with the team. There had also been countless hours put in by the management group of Shane Carter, Barry Matthews, Mike Mavor, Murray Pearson, Simon Robins, Glen Sturgess and Andrew Harper, who had been ‘‘bloody amazing this year’’.
‘‘The team does not run without these guys all doing their bit.’’
Forrest said he was grateful to the loyal supporters, sponsors, community and the North Otago Rugby Union for its support in organising chartered flights for the team to get to away games this year.
The Old Golds would now take a break and regroup in February next year.