Taking on its third Ranfurly Shield challenge in as many years was always going to be a big occasion for North Otago.
While the Old Golds lost 85-0 to Hawke’s Bay in Napier last week, head coach Jason Forrest was proud of the team’s effort.
“We can’t fault any of the players in regard to trying to be as professional as they could on the field,” Forrest said.
“We started really well until just a little bit of execution around one of our passes and they [Hawke’s Bay] kicked it through and they scored.”
North Otago players “tried their hearts out and gave their all” and it was an “outstanding” experience for them.
The scoreline highlighted the difference training together every day, compared with once a week, made, Forrest said.
“The speed of the game, the speed of how they played . . . we weren’t expecting them to be that good,” he said.
“We’d watched a little bit of their previous game against Wairarapa Bush, and they are doing some seriously good things up at Hawke’s Bay rugby at the moment.”
Ten players made their first class debut for the Old Golds, showcasing the amount of local talent stepping up.
“The guys came off the field with a smile on their face, absolutely buggered, but just something they had never experienced in regard to the physicality and the speed of the game.”
Members of the North Otago Supporters Club made the trip to Napier too, and could be heard around the stadium, Forrest said.
It was fantastic to have their, and the community’s, support, he said.
The North Otago squad returned to training on Wednesday. Excelsior and Athletic Marist club players in the squad, whose Citizens Shield season is now over, would have two trainings a week for the next month.
“We want to be the fittest team in the Heartland competition and [the Shield challenge] just proved when you’re fit you get yourself into a better position.”
Old Boys, Valley, Kurow and Maheno players would train one night a week, and join the two trainings when their Citizens Shield seasons finished.
A full Heartland squad would be named following the Citizens Shield final on July 24.