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Lock and load . . . North Otago lock Josh Clark has second-row team-mate Jared Whitburn in support as he makes a break against South Canterbury at Whitestone Contracting Stadium. PHOTO: PHIL JANSSEN

OLD GOLDS WRAP
That was a weird game to watch and an even weirder game to attempt to write about.

You can probably argue that South Canterbury deserved to hold on to the Hanan Shield with a 41-22 win over North Otago at Whitestone Contracting Stadium last Saturday.

But you can also suggest the visiting side did not really play that well, and that the Old Golds could, perhaps should, have done better.

Still, the numbers tell the story, and South Canterbury scored six tries to three to put the result beyond doubt.

It was another frustrating day for North Otago, which did some things well but too many things poorly, and crucially did not capitalise on enough opportunities.

Those themes were emphasised in a 10-minute spell in the first half when the home side led 10-7.

Halfback Inoke Naufahu snaffled an intercept but ran out of puff before the tryline.

The Old Golds swept downfield again minutes later but lost control of the ball.

Then, a dagger. Simon Lilicama produced a wonderful feat of athleticism – but a moment of madness – when he leaped to keep a ball in play, and batted it straight to South Canterbury opposite Kalavini Leatigaga for a 70m try.

That changed the momentum of the game, and South Canterbury added two more quick tries.

North Otago scored right on halftime but South Canterbury did enough in the second half to stay out of sight.

It was a game of half-openings for the Old Golds, who did well in the set phases but just weren’t accurate enough with attacking chances.

They also slipped off too many tackles, handing South Canterbury a couple of soft tries.

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Josh Clark and Mika Mafi were powerful and vigorous in the pack, and young prop Kelepi Funaki impressed in a cameo off the bench.

Naufahu was a nuisance all day, but apart from a couple of glimpses of potency from winger Frank Kelly, the North Otago backs were otherwise anonymous.

COACH’S CALL
“I actually thought our forwards went really well. Our scrum and lineout went well. And we also created some good opportunities. So there were some positives there. But we didn’t finish off, and when we made mistakes, South Canterbury capitalised on them and pounced on the ball. We gave the ball away too easily at times, and you can’t do that against a side that has its confidence up. We’ve talked about doing the small things right but that message doesn’t always get through. Some of our defence was also soft at times. The pressure is on us this week. We’ve got to react well to that. I want to see a big, courageous effort, right across the park.” – Nigel Walsh

OTHER HEARTLAND GAMES
There was a wonderful moment in Westport when Heartland Championship talisman Luke Brownlee kicked a conversion in his 200th game to lead Buller to its breakthrough win, 37-19 over Mid Canterbury.

King Country beat Poverty Bay 59-38 in a tryfest in Taupo, and Wairarapa-Bush ground out a 23-5 win over West Coast in Greymouth.

Thames Valley pipped Horowhenua-Kapiti 37-35 in Te Aroha, and Wanganui beat East Coast 56-10 in Tolaga Bay.

THIS WEEKEND
The Old Golds are off to Masterton to play Wairarapa-Bush on the artificial turf at Memorial Park.

Wairarapa-Bush has won four of its past five games, and it beat South Canterbury in its most recent home game.

In short, this is no easy assignment for North Otago.

There is huge pressure on coach Nigel Walsh and his team to get something out of the game.

Otherwise, the Old Golds could bring a sad end to New Zealand rugby’s longest active playoff streak, and miss the post-season for the first time since 1999.