OLD GOLDS WRAP
Just as you should not dwell too long on a loss, it can be foolhardy to get carried away by a win.
But there were finally some broad smiles at Whitestone Contracting Stadium as North Otago scored six tries to three to pummel West Coast 40-19.
There were a couple of rough patches as North Otago’s frustrating turnover rate and some lax defence threatened to ruin the afternoon.
Generally, though, there was lots to be happy about.
The Old Golds were simply irresistible in the first 15 minutes, rocketing to a 19-0 lead.
And while they went off the boil before halftime, they again produced blitzkrieg rugby to shoot to a 40-14 lead with 25 minutes to play.
Their scrum was immense and their ball skills frequently eye-popping.
The latter was on show when the Old Golds scored arguably the try of the Heartland Championship season early in the first half.
Josh Clark grabbed a lineout steal, up to 10 players handled the ball, and Inoke Naufahu scored the try after an 80m sweep.
Another absolute stunner came at a similar point in the second half when Frank Kelly made a break, Paul Tupai carried on, and replacement halfback Glen Sturgess crossed the line.
North Otago remains just outside the top eight – pending talk of a team being stripped of points – and has a tough finish to the season, but at least it has regained some confidence.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
The two sensational backline tries got the fans off their seats, but the champagne rugby started up front.
Tighthead prop Meli Kolinisau had arguably his best game in a gold jersey, hungrily seeking the ball and bullocking his way through defenders. Beside him, Ralph Darling and Sam Sturgess were equally vigorous, while Clark added all his grunt and nous at lock.
Mika Mafi spent 10 minutes in the bin and dropped a couple of balls but he was otherwise magnificent.
Naufahu and Sturgess each did good work at halfback, Tupai made some excellent decisions at second five, and Kelly was an exciting and energetic presence on the wing.
Josh Buchan moved to fullback and Tyler Burgess got his first start in the No10 jersey, and it would not surprise if it stays that way in the next two weeks.
“That feels really, really good. We didn’t change a lot but we just got better at the small things, and we had everybody on the same page, and it paid off. We scored some nice tries but they came after we’d done the hard work first. Now we need to try to play the whole 80. The boys are looking forward to the challenge against South Canterbury. There won’t be any lack of motivation, that’s for sure.” – Sam Sturgess
OTHER HEARTLAND GAMES
This is still a competition that can throw up anything on any given weekend.
The big shock was in Masterton, where Wairarapa-Bush came from behind in a seesawing game to upset South Canterbury 27-24.
Despite the fact it is always nice to see the noisy neighbour tipped over, that was not a great result for North Otago, which would have been in a playoff spot had Wairarapa-Bush lost.
Thames Valley fought back late to seal a 37-34 win over Poverty Bay in Gisborne, and Horowhenua-Kapiti beat King Country 36-30 in Paraparaumu.
Mid Canterbury recovered from a sluggish start to beat East Coast 49-7 in Ashburton, and Wanganui also rebounded from a poor first half to beat Buller 45-14 at Cooks Gardens.
OTHER REP GAMES
Otago Spirit: Need to give the women a special mention this week. North Otago players Morgan Henderson, Georgia McCullough and Cheyenne Cunningham all started in the 65-0 tonking of Taranaki in New Plymouth. Cunningham scored a hat-trick of tries.
Under-16: Playing at the South Island tournament in Nelson. Sadly, the North Otago under-18 team withdrew from its tournament in Christchurch due to a lack of numbers.
Under-14: Spent the weekend in Ashburton. Gave Ellesmere a good crack, losing 41-31 after coming back from 27-5 down. Then played arguably the best game of the season to beat Mid Canterbury 36-10.
It seems unlikely North Otago will be in the Meads Cup final.
Heck, even a Lochore Cup final is going to be extremely tricky to pull off.
But there is still a “final” to get excited about. As in, really excited.
The old enemy is back in town this weekend, and South Canterbury is a talented, superbly coached team, no doubt smarting from a shock loss.
North Otago fans, I suspect, will accept not being in the Meads Cup as long as the Old Golds can win back the Hanan Shield.
North Otago 40
Mika Mafi, Josh Buchan, Inoke Naufahu, Tyler Burgess, Glen Sturgess, Sam Sturgess tries; Buchan 5 con
West Coast 19
Amenatave Tukana, Troy Tauwhare, Maleli Mudu tries; Tom Reekie 2 con
Halftime: North Otago 19-14.