North Otago heading in wrong direction

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OLD GOLDS WRAP
You like to stay positive at a time like this – but North Otago rugby fans are starting to get worried.

A rough 43-21 loss to Thames Valley in Te Aroha was another dagger blow to the Old Golds’ hopes of getting back into the Meads Cup for the first time since 2013.

The scarier prospect is North Otago finishing out of the Heartland Championship playoffs altogether, wrecking the longest active playoff streak in New Zealand rugby after 18 seasons.

Again, glass half full – win the final three games with bonus points and the Old Golds could still sneak into the Meads Cup. Win two, and at least a Lochore Cup spot is assured.

They have 11 points (six off fourth place), and teams generally need about 26 points to get into the top bracket and about 18 to make the second tier.

But this was their third straight loss, which as far as I can tell has not happened in a single regular season since the Heartland Championship started in 2006. Ouch.

That’s not much fun to digest. Nor was it particularly heart-warming to hear the score when North Otago plunged to a 33-7 deficit at halftime in Te Aroha.

That is “game over” material, and suggests there are either serious defensive issues or something else going wrong.

The disappointing theme seems to be that this North Otago team is less than the sum of its parts, and the clock is ticking if the season is to be rescued.

COACH’S CALL
Just a bit too much to cover this week for this little spot.

See p73 for lots of interesting thoughts from Nigel Walsh.

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
No 8 Mika Mafi worked his guts out – he always does – and Filipo Veamatahau and Josh Clark did their best to turn things around in the second half.

Fullback Simon Lilicama continued his fine season with a fourth try in five games.

OTHER HEARTLAND GAMES
West Coast claimed derby bragging rights with a 34-28 win over Buller, which was tipped by most at the start of the season to be a Meads Cup contender but is winless through five rounds.

There was mild celebration in Ruatoria when East Coast finally grabbed its first competition point of the season, gaining a bonus point in a 26-19 loss to Poverty Bay.

Willie Wright and Rico Syme each bagged two tries as South Canterbury held on to the Hanan Shield and eased to a 41-10 win over Mid Canterbury in Timaru.

King Country lost its first game of the season, falling 36-19 to competition leader Wanganui, and Horowhenua-Kapiti beat Wairarapa-Bush 37-21 in the hyphen game.

OTHER REP GAMES
North Otago A: Had a tough 83-7 loss to Southland B in Balclutha. That’s the end of the season for the second-stringers.

Under-18: Lost to Otago Country 27-24 on the last play. Llew Johnson showed his magic skills and Joseph Siale was outstanding at flanker. Like the under-16s, the under-18s are off to the South Island tournament in Christchurch.

Under-16: Took a 3-0 lead against Otago Country, but lost 56-3. Case Rawson and Isaac Clunie played well.

Under-14: Did well in the “game of three halves”. Gave up a late try in a 17-12 loss to Otago Country, and showed lots of promise in a 42-21 win over South Canterbury.

THIS WEEKEND
It is clearly must-win territory for the Old Golds.

They are back at home to play West Coast, which is a tough nut to crack this season. Consider the fact North Otago just got pummelled by Thames Valley in Te Aroha, and West Coast won up there a few weeks ago.

For the sake of their season, and in the interests of getting fans back through the gate, the Old Golds simply must deliver this weekend.