North Otago coach Nigel Walsh wishes he could put his finger on exactly why his side did not fire enough shots this season.
The Old Golds are done for the year after being beaten 24-14 by West Coast in the Lochore Cup semifinal in Greymouth on Saturday.
Failing to make even the second-tier final, let alone missing out on the Meads Cup, represents a below-par effort for the union in the modern era and, while Walsh can identify some positives, he is left with a lingering sense of frustration that more was not achieved.
“We’ve come a long way. We were fitter, we played better rugby, we had a good culture. We ticked off a lot of boxes on the way through the season, and we achieved some personal goals with players.
“But results-wise, we just let ourselves down on the odd occasion.
“I think the competition had improved. It was very tough, and any of the top eight teams could have beaten the top team.
“It was a cut-throat competition, and you had to take your opportunities, and that’s where we probably let ourselves down a bit.”
North Otago’s record was hardly awful – it won half its games, and had four narrow losses – but it never managed to deliver a series of polished performances.
Walsh was unsure why the side played in fits and starts.
“Some weeks, we’d start well then taper off in the middle then finish well. Other weeks, we wouldn’t start well but we’d have a good second half.
“We tried to get our heads around why we had that inconsistency, and there was no real answer. We’d train well and put everything in place, but then we didn’t always fire a shot or play the way we wanted to play.”
The semifinal provided a classic example. North Otago struggled to get into the game, and was always on the back foot as West Coast played with precision and power.
“We didn’t play to our game plan until the last eight to 10 minutes when we decided that we needed to play the way we wanted to play,” Walsh said.
“We started finding space on the outside, and if we’d done that from the start, things could have been totally different. We gave away far too many silly penalties, and West Coast took their opportunities and deserved to win.
“It’s very frustrating. One week, you’re in the top four – and very close to teams like South Canterbury and Buller – and then your season is finished.
“It was always going to be tough to get the boys back up again after missing out on the top four, but there are no excuses.”
Walsh highlighted the work done this season by his forwards, particularly veteran leaders Ralph Darling and Josh Clark, star import Mika Mafi and big improver Meli Kolinisau.
He was unable to confirm if he would be back for a second year as head coach in 2018.
“We haven’t gone down that track yet. We’ve got to have a debrief with Colin [Jackson, North Otago chief executive] and the board and see what comes out of it.
“I’ve enjoyed my time with North Otago. There’s no reason why I wouldn’t do it again if the opportunity was there.
“But there are other things to think about too, like my family. My son is playing rep rugby now, and I only saw him play two games this year. This job means a lot of time away from home.”
Walsh, who was disappointed to see his native South Canterbury knocked out of the Meads Cup, is tipping Wanganui to win the top prize and West Coast to win the Lochore Cup.