North Otago is back in the Meads Cup playoffs for the first time since 2013.
The Old Golds got the job done last Saturday, beating East Coast 61-29 in Ruatoria. The bonus-point victory meant North Otago finished second in the Heartland Championship at the conclusion of the round-robin, and hosts a semifinal tomorrow against Wairarapa Bush at Whitestone Contracting Stadium.
The key to the victory in Ruatoria was always going to be a fast start, and North Otago had a four-try bonus point, and effectively the game, secured in the first 40 minutes, getting out to a 35-10 lead at halftime.
East Coast, looking to break a 49-game losing streak, kept applying pressure, but North Otago’s superior fitness and class kept the game under control.
North Otago coach Jason Forrest said it was a good way for his side to finish the regular season.
“East Coast brought some good intensity. We were probably a bit guilty of buttoning off once we got the bonus point.”
Thames Valley’s comfortable 37-15 win over King Country means it finished top of the table, but that may prove to be a blessing in disguise for North Otago.
The Swamp Foxes will host Wanganui tomorrow in the other Meads Cup semifinal. After a shocking start, Wanganui is peaking at the right time of the season.
Earlier in the round-robin, North Otago beat Wairarapa Bush 25-11 at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin, but Forrest said anything could happen in semifinal rugby.
“Wairarapa Bush will have improved a whole heap.
“It’s just good to be at home, that is the main thing.”
His message to players in the changing sheds would be the same as most other weeks – “go out and have some fun”.
“Some fun, some energy, some excitement about what we want to do – and we have done that the last couple of weeks.
“We have been playing finals footy for the last two weeks .. we want the boys to play with that sort of attitude.”
Having strong North Otago support in the crowd tomorrow would be “huge”, Forrest said.
“It just helps the boys out even more; please come along and support us.
“We have had a pretty good season up until now – if we could just top it off and at least get into that final.”