Old Golds fail to close out road win

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OLD GOLDS WRAP

Every win in a tight Heartland Championship schedule is precious, so this is definitely a minor setback.

North Otago held its own against a strong Horowhenua-Kapiti forward pack in the first half in Levin, and pushed to a handy 19-8 lead when midfield back Sala Halaleva scored a try in the second half.

That should have been the cue for North Otago to play the game at the right end of the field and close out a road win, but it was unable to do that.

The home side rallied with just five minutes to play, scoring an intercept try and then grabbing a second five-pointer when North Otago attempted to run the ball out of its own 22m and turned the ball over.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK

Josh Clark had a big game on his return to the Old Golds, Ralph Darling made some of his trademark attacking breaks, and Sam Sturgess showed his exceptional accuracy at lineout time.

In the backs, Halaleva – back in gold after shining in the 2015 season – and Lemi Masoe created plenty of opportunities in the midfield, and Matthew Vocea looked strong on the wing.

COACH’S CALL

“We’re disappointed, because we should have been able to lock that game up, but there was also a lot of good stuff. We opened them up three or four times but didn’t quite finish them off. Our lineout and scrum went well. Plenty of positives. It’s about us understanding how to play the game at the right end and at the right time.” – Nigel Walsh

OTHER HEARTLAND GAMES

Defending champion Wanganui made an early statement with a 79-7 shellacking of Wairarapa-Bush at Cooks Gardens. Timoci Seruwalu led Wanganui with a hat-trick of tries.

Mid Canterbury also made a bright start, thumping Poverty Bay 34-5 in Ashburton, Thames Valley beat East Coast 42-13 in Ruatoria, Buller held off a fast-finishing South Canterbury to win 27-24 in Westport, and King Country could not manage a win for the late Colin Meads, falling 17-6 to West Coast in Taupo.

OTHER REP GAMES

Development: Beat Mid Canterbury 30-12 in Ashburton. A very promising start for the D squad under rookie coach Chris Jennings, indicating there is some depth in the province. Hayden Tisdall, Brad McKenzie and Timoci Bulitavu scored tries, and Tyler Burgess landed six goals from six attempts. Harvard Fale and Morgan Dawes impressed in the loose, and Chris Talanoa made a successful comeback at centre.

Under-16: Beat South Canterbury 31-6 in Timaru. An excellent all-round team performance from the under-16s, who led 31-3 at halftime. Lock Oliver Kinzett, prop Justin Fifita and flanker Izaak Tauwhare shone in the pack, while Bryden Skinner and Bayley Sullivan were a dynamic midfield combination.

Under-14: Lost to South Canterbury 86-5 in Timaru. Sebastian Whiston and Lachlan Brookes had excellent performances in a one-sided game.

Under-13: Beat South Canterbury 34-29 in Timaru. Charlie Mathias led from the front with some strong runs, and Tama Chapman also gained good metres. Sam Keno, Logan Taylor, Stanley McClure and Logan Horwell teamed up well to produce some stunning tries.

Under-12: Lost to South Canterbury 37-5 in Timaru. North Otago started well, and trailed just 12-5 at the break before the home side stepped up the pressure and pace. Midfielder Sam McCarthy made a good break to set fullback Jakob Cunningham up for the try. Floyd Tayles and Lochie Mavor did some great work in the loose.

Under-11: Had the weekend off after the annual Waimate tournament was brought forward. Played exceptionally well at that tournament, beating Waimate (15-5) and South Canterbury (24-12) and losing to Otago Metro (12-0) and Mid Canterbury (56-7). Kiseke Fifita, Max Fatafehi, George Asi and Lucas Chellew made the tournament team.

THIS WEEKEND

North Otago hosts Hanan Shield rival Mid Canterbury at the Whitestone Contracting Stadium at 2pm.

It is too early to be using phrases like “must win”, but the last thing the Old Golds need is to slip into an 0-2 hole to start their bid to return to the Meads Cup playoffs.

Fans will see a new man leading the team on to the field. Sam Sturgess replaces fellow front-row star Ralph Darling as captain. North Otago coach Nigel Walsh said the move was aimed at letting Darling concentrate on his own game, and Darling and Robbie Smith would be key leaders in support of Sturgess.