Whether you are a Maheno fan, a Valley fan or neutral, tomorrow’s North Otago premier club rugby final promises to be a great game.
Due to Covid-19 Alert Level 2 social distancing requirements, spectator numbers for the Citizens Shield final at Whitestone Contracting Stadium have been limited to invited guests from the two country clubs.
While the general public will not be able to attend the game, there will be live commentary on Real Radio and North Otago Rugby hoped to stream a live video on its Facebook page. Kick-off is at 2.30pm.
This year’s Citizens Shield competition was a very competitive one, exemplified by the standings heading into last weekend’s semifinals – just five points separated the top four teams.
Valley held on to beat Kurow 23-19 and Maheno pipped Old Boys at the post to win 33-32.
Valley played a solid game – players kept their composure, kicked well for territory and put pressure on Kurow’s clearance kicks.
Kurow showed plenty of resilience to come back and get within one point of the home side, but a Ben Paton penalty was the final scoring play and saw Valley through to the final.
At Maheno, the home side held on to beat Old Boys for the third time in the past four weeks. The game was played at an extremely high level and there was no shortage of physicality from both sides.
The killer moment came with five minutes to go and Maheno still trailing.
Robbie Smith made a 50m break from his own half and, a few phases later, belted over the match-winning penalty.
Old Boys showed plenty of heart to get the ball back and have one final crack, but in the end coughed the ball up and the game was over.
The Citizens Shield final will be anyone’s game – Maheno and Valley have both been consistent all season.
Valley coach Mike Mavor said his side was “exactly where we want to be”.
Maheno was a good team, with plenty of finals experience, Mavor said.
“How we defend as a backline will be pretty important. We need to put them under pressure there and nullify some of those guys out wide.
“We won’t be changing too much about what we do.
“One of the focuses will be thinking clearly what we are doing and not charging into every ruck and possibly overstepping the mark.
“There is a bit of emotion around these games.”
First-year Maheno coach Harry Semple said Valley posed a different threat than Old Boys.
“Old Boys play like us. They like to play with width, and Valley like to keep it in tight and use their 12 hitting hard channels,” Semple said.
“We will look to spread it on attack and be tight enough on defence to try and stop their go-forward.”
Maheno is yet to be beaten this season, a statistic Semple said provided the team with belief at key moments.
“We are trying to make winning a habit, and it seems to be working.
“When we get the ball, we will score. Our biggest focus has been defence.”
Key players coming up with the right plays at the right time had been crucial all season, and tomorrow would be no different, he said.
The quality of rugby and competitive nature of the competition was a positive takeaway from a disrupted 2020 season, North Otago Rugby Union chief executive Colin Jackson said.
“Club rugby in North Otago is in very good heart,” Jackson said.
“For a little union to sustain six club sides is a big congratulations to the clubs.”
The final had been added to a long list of events affected by Covid-19 around the world, but Jackson praised the resilience shown by the rugby community in North Otago.
“Everyone has just rolled up their sleeves and got on with it,” he said.
“We have been dealt a card that we have no control over. We continue to work with that.
“The collaboration between the clubs and with the union has been fantastic.”
The progress of Athletic Marist on and off the field had been another positive this year, after a tough 2019 season for the team, he said.
“Wayne Kinzett came back as coach and he should be singled out for a terrific job.
“Blues were ravaged with injuries of key players, but they will be there next year.”
North Otago is still scheduled to challenge Canterbury for the Ranfurly Shield in Christchurch on August 28 at 2.05pm. If the region is still in Alert Level 2 or higher there will be no crowd, but the game will be televised live on Sky Sport.