Nigel Walsh wants to spend some time with his family and let a review of a disappointing North Otago rugby campaign run its course before deciding on his future.
The North Otago coach was left reflecting on a second season in charge of the Heartland Championship team that bore striking similarities to his first.
Like last year, the Old Golds followed an unremarkable campaign (four wins, four losses) with defeat in the Lochore Cup semifinals, a comparatively poor return when you consider their long run of success since 2000.
But there was a general feeling this year’s team was more talented than the 2017 squad, and that means there has to be a question mark over the immediate future of Walsh and assistant Jason Forrest.
Walsh played his cards close to his chest when contacted by the Oamaru Mail this week.
“I haven’t decided anything yet,” he said.
“I’ve got to go through the review with the board and see what they are thinking. I’m sure they would have wanted better results. I think we’ve sold ourselves short on where we could have been.
“But as I see it, we’ve come a long way in terms of culture. We had a strong team culture, on and off the field, and I’ve seen some players grow.
“I’ve enjoyed my time with the North Otago boys. I’ve enjoyed the support, on and off the field.
“I’d never say never to coaching North Otago again, that’s for sure.”
Walsh said no specific timeframe had been established to sort out his future.
“The Heartland season doesn’t start in March, so there’s a bit of time up our sleeve.
“The North Otago board might want to get things under way quickly. I’m not sure. That will come up in our discussions.”
Inevitably, rugby fans will wonder if the Timaru-based Walsh, who sought to further his coaching career when he joined North Otago as an assistant to Barry Stevens in 2016, will put his hand up to coach his home province.
South Canterbury is being guided by North Otago-based former Old Golds coach Barry Matthews for a fourth season, and it seems possible Matthews will bow out after the Meads Cup final.
“It was always my intention, when I started coaching, to coach the local team if I got the opportunity,” Walsh said.
“That was made very clear to North Otago when I came down here, and they understood that.
“But I haven’t had any communication with the South Canterbury union. No discussions at all. And I’m not even sure what the South Canterbury coaches are doing next year.”
For now, Walsh is looking forward to devoting some time to his supportive family, and spending less time on the road.
He acknowledged North Otago did not do as well as he’d hoped this season.
“Frustrating would be the word. We underperformed, and we lost games we should have won.
“The players know that. We’ve talked about being a team that has again underperformed, and being that team that loses by small margins – again.”
Walsh thought there were enough positive performances by the players.
He singled out flanker Filipo Veamatahau for his “huge year”, praised the development of Sam Sturgess as a captain, and reflected on the strength and stability offered by Ralph Darling, Josh Clark and Paul Tupai.
A week after thumping Wairarapa-Bush 24-0 in Masterton, North Otago came unstuck 30-21 against the same opposition in the semifinal.
“We knew we would be facing a totally different team,” Walsh said.
“They had Glen Walters back at 10, who runs the cutter very well, and they really lifted their game and played well.
“It was 21-20 to us with about 10 minutes go. They broke out and scored a try. We got down their end and should have scored, but we turned the ball over. They went back down, got a penalty and that was that.
“As far as effort goes, I couldn’t take anything away from the boys. They had a crack and tried their darnedest.”
Wairarapa-Bush heads to Levin to play Horowhenua-Kapiti, which beat Mid Canterbury 34-24, in the Lochore Cup final.
There was a massive shock in the Meads Cup semifinal, Thames Valley beating hot favourite Wanganui 17-7. That means South Canterbury, which beat King Country 58-21, hosts the final, and there is guaranteed to be a first-time Meads Cup winner.
Mike Lealeva’a 2, Daryl Pickering tries; Glen Walters 3 pen, 3 con
North Otago 21
Junior Fakatoufifita, Matt Vocea, Jake Greenslade tries; Josh Buchan 3 con
Halftime: Wairarapa-Bush 10-7.
Meads Cup: South Canterbury v Thames Valley, Timaru, Saturday 1.05pm.
Lochore Cup: Horowhenua-Kapiti v Wairarapa-Bush, Levin, Sunday 2.35pm.