North Otago put it all together in its 25-11 win over Wairarapa-Bush last Friday.
Playing under the roof at Forsyth Barr, North Otago controlled the game and, if anything, could have won by more.
The victory means it is one of only two teams with a perfect winning record after two rounds of the Heartland Championship – West Coast is top of the table thanks to an extra bonus point.
Friday’s game was a curtain-raiser to the Otago-Manawatu Ranfurly Shield challenge, and the perfect conditions suited North Otago’s youthful and energetic team who played the game with plenty of pace.
North Otago led 7-6 at the break, thanks to a brilliant backline move that sent Howard Packman under the posts, but several unforced errors meant other scoring opportunities went to waste.
Whatever was said at halftime seemed to do the trick though. Sam Tatupu barged over soon after kickoff and his midfield partner Lemi Masoe followed up with a try of his own to make the score 19-6, putting the Old Golds in the box seat.
Wairarapa-Bush managed to score too, but two Robbie Smith penalties made the game safe and North Otago secured a well-deserved win.
Any concerns about whether North Otago’s forwards would be able to cope with losing three players to New Zealand Heartland XV duties were put to rest, as props Kelepi Funaki and Mike Mata’afa were at the forefront of a dominant effort.
Robbie Smith and Mike Williams kept Wairarapa-Bush pinned in its own half and Tatupu and fullback Patrick Pati had their best games in a North Otago jersey.
North Otago coach Jason Forrest said the performance ticked more than a few more boxes, especially with three senior players missing.
“We saw it as Kelepi, Mike and Jake [Greenslade] getting their chances and .. they took them.
“We have competition for places all throughout the squad, which is great.”
Minimising the number of unforced errors would be a focus going into tomorrow’s game against Poverty Bay in Gisborne.
“They are a dangerous side; they can rip you open at any time,” Forrest said.
“If we can build phases and hold the ball we will break them down, but it will take a long time.”
Nailing all of its chances and securing bonus points would be important towards the end of the season, Forrest said.
“We need to start scoring those points. I have been involved in teams where we have won lots, but missed out because we didn’t score those four try bonus points.”
North Otago team to play Poverty Bay:
Kelepi Funaki, Sam Sturgess, Meli Kolinisau, Charles Elton, William Kirkwood, Jake Greenslade, Jacob Coghlan, Josh Clark, Robbie Smith, Mike Williams, Adam Johnson, Sam Tatupu, Clement Gasca, Howard Packman, Patrick Pati, Hayden Tisdall, Ralph Darling, Josh Hayward, Manulua Taiti, Anothony Arty, Lachlan Kingan, Taina Tamou.