OLD GOLDS WRAP
A strong second-half fightback catapulted North Otago ahead of Buller to give it the perfect start to this year’s Heartland Championship with a 30-24 victory at Whitestone Contracting Stadium on Saturday.
After trailing 19-10 at halftime, the Old Golds showed plenty of fortitude to firstly close the gap and then kick on through converted tries to winger Simon Lilicama, who dotted down under the sticks off the back of a touch-finding penalty, then lock Pita Sinamoni, who was lurking on the right wing to finish off a rolling maul.
Earlier, both sides struggled to convert possession into points as chances went begging.
Buller was first to break the drought with a try to fullback Robbie Malneek, which was duly converted.
North Otago hit back almost immediately when Ralph Darling latched on to a pinpoint pass from flying winger Frank Kelly, leaving the Buller defence in his wake.
A Josh Buchan penalty on the stroke of halftime kept the Old Golds in touch, after Buller scored three tries in 15 minutes to put the pressure squarely on the hosts.
The first five-eighth slotted a further two penalties in the second half to secure the win.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Darling was at his industrious best, while Sinamoni showed plenty of physicality up front.
Flanker Filipo Veamatahau showed no fear when hitting Buller’s defensive line at top speed, an attitude matched by barnstorming No8 Mika Mafi.
“It’s always good to get the W in the first game. We didn’t know much about Buller, but they’re a good side. The boys held them well and finished off well, actually, so it’s very pleasing. We’d looked at it at halftime and we’d given away too many penalties and made too many mistakes. We knew, after four or five phases, we were splitting them open and we had our opportunities, so we just had to be patient and hang on to the ball. The boys lifted it a notch and it was very pleasing.” – Nigel Walsh
OTHER HEARTLAND GAMES
Mid Canterbury secured an important 30-24 away win over Horowhenua-Kapiti, while a rampant King Country scored at will to put away a woeful East Coast 75-17 in Te Kuiti.
Poverty Bay held off Wairarapa Bush 27-22, while the clash between Thames Valley and West Coast was even tighter with the Coasters hanging on for a 27-25 win. After South Canterbury and competition favourite Wanganui exchanged penalties to go in to the break tied at 3-3 at Cooks Gardens, the latter pulled away to win 21-10.
OTHER REP GAMES
North Otago A: Beat the touring New Zealand Marist Colts 35-24 in the Oamaru curtain-raiser. Dan Lewis, in his final appearance before heading home to England, scored two tries and kicked five conversions. Dean Fenwick, Kieran McClea and Ross Lewis scored the other tries for North Otago A. Athletic Marist rookie Mason Kinzett played for the Marist team.
Under-14: Lost to South Canterbury 50-5 in Timaru. Ben Kay tackled his heart out, and Tama Chapman carried the ball strongly from No 8.
Under-11: Had a heavy loss against a slick Metro team in Dunedin. Captain Toby Hunt and Liam Ross led from the front, and Itaia Chapman delivered some staunch defence and good runs with ball in hand.
A trip to Ashburton will test North Otago as it faces Mid Canterbury, one of the better Heartland sides in recent times.
Regardless of the result, one team will leave the Ashburton Showgrounds with its 100% winning record intact and the other under pressure in week three.
If the Old Golds continue to show their attacking flair, they should be confident they can topple the Hammers.
North Otago 30 (Ralph Darling, Simon Lilicama, Pita Sinamoni tries; Josh Buchan 3 con, 3 pen), Buller 24 (Robbie Malneek 2, Anthony Ellis, Iliesa Ravudra tries; James Lash 2 con). Halftime: Buller 19-10.