North Otago will host Wairarapa Bush at the Whitestone Contracting Stadium in tomorrow’s Meads Cup semi-final.
The Old Golds secured a home final four tie after a nail-biting 27-22 win over Horowhenua Kapiti last weekend, trailing 11-22 at half time, Mike Mullins’ side held the visitors to a scoreless second period to force the win.
Wairarapa Bush’s last round-robin fixture ended in disappointment, falling to third place on the points table following a 23-15 defeat to Thames Valley in Paeroa but have had a consistent campaign otherwise.
Then green and reds handed North Otago an opening day 18-20 defeat and had only been downed once by eventual table toppers Mid Canterbuy 29-23 in week three before their round eight loss.
As last Saturday’s tie frayed the nerves of the North Otago faithful the intensity also took its toll on the players with prop Rangi Hepi having to be assisted from the field with a broken leg.
Coach Mullins said a lack of experience may have proved costly in the round one clash with tomorrow’s opponents and an improved performance is imperative if North Otago are to reach the final.
“It was a tight game in round one (against Wairarapa Bush), and a lot of our players are new to what is required mentally and physically in the Heartland competition, with only six of last season’s team involved this year,” he said.
“Wairarapa Bush showed their experience in the first game, with some of their key players in the forwards and the backs being the difference. They (Wairarapa) continued to improve throughout the season, and had some good wins over King Country and coming back from a big half time deficit versus East Coast was an impressive display of grit.
“I didn’t expect them to slip up last weekend against Thames Valley and hand us a home semi-final, but I’m sure our supporters are happy they don’t have to travel.
“We hope to have everyone available for selection this Thursday with 30 players currently training, with the exception of Rangi Hepi.
“We will need to improve all areas of our game another 50 per cent this weekend if we want to keep Our Season alive.”
North Otago CEO Colin Jackson praised the players and management’s efforts and the resilience shown in producing six consecutive wins following defeats in rounds one and two.
“To reach a home semi final after losing the first two games is an outstanding achievement,” he said.
“The players have shown resilience and composure, often under intense pressure but have never taken a backward step all season.
“Much credit must go to Mike Mullins, Troy Looms and the incredibly hard working management team who have moulded together, a quality North Otago team that we can all be proud of.”
Wairarapa coach Murk Rutene said he is expected a difficult clash and is ruing the missed opportunity of a home semi-final following last weekends loss to Thames Valley.
“We didn’t play well and they (Thames Valley) defended well but there’s no excuses, they wanted it more,” he said.
“We’d have loved a home semi final but we just have to role with the punches, there’s been seven games since then (the game with North Otago) and we were both a bit rusty.
“We’ve got a lot of respect for North Otago, they’re always up there it should be a good game.”
The fitness of prop Lawrence Campbell and skipper Johan Van Vliet was still a concern in last night’s training session.
Mid Canterbury will host West Coast in Ashburton in the opposite semi-final whilst Wanganui and South Canterbury entertain Buller and Thames Valley respectively in the Lonchore Cup semi-finals.
North Otago vs Wairarapa Bush, 2.30pm
Whitestone Contracting Stadium.