North Otago narrowly beat King Country 26-24 in Taupo last Saturday to retain the Maroon and Gold Cup.
The Old Golds were under the pump early, conceding a soft try inside 90 seconds, but responded well to lead 14-10 at halftime.
Replacement prop Lisivani Tuifua was injected into the game early when loan player Rohan Wingham went down with a calf injury in the first 10 minutes. Tuifua had a strong outing, keeping his team moving with two tries in the second half to hold off King Country’s comeback.
Coach Jason Forrest said it was not a perfect start for his side but the players and coaches took a lot of positives out of the game.
‘‘It was messy and we always knew it was going to be that,’’ Forrest said.
‘‘Some of these guys haven’t played rugby for sort of six to eight weeks . . . there was a lot of probably over-excited bodies out there.’’
North Otago failed to execute the basics in patches, throwing wayward passes and putting themselves under unnecessary pressure — but they were easy fixes, he said.
‘‘We just couldn’t build phases. We couldn’t hold the ball for long enough and then we were just throwing, they weren’t even 50-50 balls, they were 80-20s and they just weren’t going to anyone.’’
If the team had been able to hold the ball for six-plus phases, it would have created more opportunities. But with limited grass time — due to wet weather closing the grounds — Forrest was rapt with the defensive effort from the team, especially in the second half, to hold off King Country.
‘‘Huge amount of ticker shown in that second half. We got ourselves out of some really tricky situations every now and then.
‘‘Full credit to the boys for those side of things.’’
Forrest praised Tuifua’s effort in coming on early, and the ‘‘big boys’’ put in a big shift up front.
‘‘We couldn’t fault the effort, it’s just a little bit of execution from us,’’ he said
‘‘Hey, end of the day, we got the win and there’s a lot to work on and we’ll look forward.’’
Wingham’s calf was being assessed earlier this week and Forrest would then make a call on whether another loan player was needed.
Otherwise, the Old Golds have pulled up relatively injury free for tomorrow’s match against Otago Country at Whitestone Contracting Stadium.
‘‘There’s a couple of local boys that might get a go this weekend that didn’t get a go last week.
‘‘We’ll make a couple of small changes, but we don’t want to do too much because we know Otago Country’s going to be a very good side.’’
Otago Country will have a ‘‘whole heap of confidence’’ after beating Southland Country 26-22 last week.
Forrest knew it would be another big pre-season match.
‘‘Otago Country is a bloody good rugby side. We’re under no [illusion] of how tough Otago Country are going to be.
‘‘We’’ll fix what we need to fix — again it’s not going to be perfect, but I know the boys are really excited about the occasion.’’
North Otago plays Otago Country at 2.30pm tomorrow.