North Otago notched their second win in as many weeks, and in doing so, scrapped Mid Canterbury’s 100 per cent record at the Whitestone Contracting Stadium on Saturday.
The Old Golds’19-18 win keeps hopes of a Meads Cup semi final spot very much alive.
Flanker Uilisoni Tahitua opened the scoring for the home team in the 101st encounter between the two unions.
Ed Keohane neatly converted before hitting a penalty moments later for a 10-0 advantage.
Mid Canterbury began to look menacing, returning fire with two penalties of their own from Josh Nonu, before centre Peni Manumanumiliwa crossed the line for the visitors to take a narrow 11-10 lead into the break.
Keohane was as accurate as ever from the boot early in the second period before notching another penalty to bring the score line to 16-11 in his side’s favour.
The green and yellows continued to ask questions of the homeside’s defence, which were eventually unanswered as Manumanumiliwa’s storming run, followed by a questionable forward pass, allowed Johannes Lambrechts to touch down in the corner to level proceedings before Nonu hit the conversion.
As the seconds ticked away, along with any realistic hopes of a crack at the Meads Cup, Keohane was on hand to sooth the jaded nerves of the North Otago faithful, smashing a penalty kick from just inside enemy lines to edge his team 19-18 in front.
North Otago were forced to soak up wave after wave of Mid Canterbury pressure in the dying moments until referee Hamish Walker blew his whistle, to the relief of the majority of spectators.
Coach Mike Mullins comended his players’ performance and is now looking ahead to Saturday’s clash with Poverty Bay, who remain winless following a tightly contested 25-21 defeat to Wanganui.
“Yes, it was a good win yesterday (Saturday),” he said.
“Especially as we had to change our back line makeup early in the game after losing our first five Ratu Vaituinaruku.
“It was a matter of lose and the possibility to be in contention to make the Meads Cup semis would have been very slim.
“We were pleased with the discipline at the end of the game, not giving away a penalty and some of our scramble defence was outstanding, with a couple of try-saving tackles being made in the closing five minutes of the game.
“I believe some of that effort comes down to the extra work the squad have been doing Monday evenings with our fitness trainer for this season, Jamie Rhodes, who has also taken on a couple of extra sessions during the week with our tight five.
“Mid Canterbury came and played as we expected, with their strike players prominent throughout the match.
“Poverty Bay are a good side, and we won’t be taking them for granted. Every week is a must win game.”
By James Ford