Heartland Rugby Review
North Otago produced a sponge like second half defence to beat Wanganui, 27-15 in the sixth round of the Heartland championship. A win was crucial for both teams with North Otago sitting in fourth place with 15 points, one ahead of Wanganui which started the game in sixth place behind Buller. Wanganui won the toss and gave North Otago first use of the strong southerly.
North Otago’s win brought a sigh of relief from co coach Mike Mullins after the game.
“It’s been a tough week. The boys worked jolly hard in that second half especially with the elements. Four tries gave us a bonus point which we needed as we chase the leading pack. But we took our opportunities. Ralph Darling’s try in the second half helped us out but the boys worked hard and it was a good win against a side like Wanganui. It all comes down to doing our analysis and working on the areas we’re going to attack. This carried over from the training paddock to the field today.”
North Otago lost captain Josh Clark with a serious knee injury late in the game and it appears his season is over unfortunately as his leadership was inspirational.
Once again lock Eric Duff was North Otago’s outstanding tight forward dominating the home lineout while in the loose Clark was in superb form at kick off time ensuring a ready supply of ball for North Otago while a feature of the North Otago forward pack was its ability to link in testing passing movements.
North Otago half Robbie Smith was in his best form sniping on the blindside effectively and again did outstanding work on defence, was unlucky not to have been awarded a try due to referee Mike Lash’s poor positioning close to the try line. Talanoa who was under an injury cloud prior to the kick-off was again North Otago most incisive back using his pace and anticipation to his side’s advantage.
For Wanganui centre Asalemo Malo had too few opportunities as did left winger Sailosi Naqiso, while in the pack Peter Rowe was formidable before he left the field injured in the second half, while Sonny Woodmass and Nic Cranston were more than just effective in the lineouts.
Wanganui’s right winger Zyron Hekenui kicked a penalty in the ninth minute to give his side and early lead but six minutes later North Otago centre, Lemi Masoe made a half break in midfield and fed first five eighth Ratu Vaituinaruku who grubber kicked ahead. North Otago left winger Chris Talanoa outpaced the cover defence to gather and score an unconverted try and give North Otago a 5-3 lead, a lead it was not to relinquish. Six minutes before halftime it was Talanoa again who breached the Wanganui defence. Wanganui attacked inside the North Otago half and had created a four to one overlap. Talanoa however made a vital interception and he raced 80 metres to score between the posts for Ed Keohane to convert. Keohane added a penalty a minute before the break to give North Otago a 15-3 halftime lead.
The big question was the twelve point lead enough against the blustery south-westerly? Once again it was North Otago’s defence that carried the side home. Five minutes into the second half fine forward play took North Otago inside the Wanganui twenty two where it won a series of phases and in the ultimate one half Robbie Smith fed prop Ralph Darling who raced through a yawning gap to score between the posts. Keohane’s conversion took North Otago out to a 22-3 lead. Ten minutes later after a series of attacks inside the North Otago twenty two, first five eighth Areta Lama put centre Asalemo Malo in for a try which Hekenui converted to make it 22-10.
But it was Chris Talanoa’s day as in the sixty sixth minute he finished off a movement initiated by half Robbie Smith 70 metres back up the paddock when after chipping ahead on halfway, Talanoa was on hand to take the final pass from Vaituinaruku to touch down in the corner for his third try of the afternoon. North Otago hung on to the 27-10 lead until in the final sixty seconds a series of mistakes allowed Wanganui a consolation try to replacement second five eighth Pehira Huwyler.
With two rounds of qualifying play in Heartland rugby three teams are tied at the top of the table, Wairarapa-Bush, Mid Canterbury and West Coast, all on twenty three points with North Otago in fourth place with twenty points. Buller has dropped off the pace with 15 points followed by Wanganui (14), South Canterbury, King Country and Thames Valley, all with thirteen points battling for a place in the Lochore Cup.
North Otago’s 53-18 win over Poverty Bay did not illustrate amount of energy that North Otago had to expend to claim five valuable competition points. Poverty Bay thoroughly tested all aspects of North Otago’s game except the scrums and whilst its attitude was admirable there was a lack of finish nurtured by inexperience that augurs well for Poverty Bay’s future. Once again it was North Otago’s bruising defence which created many of its attacking opportunities.
Behind the forwards Robbie Smith’s game continues to develop as he grows in confidence and his relationship with number eight Samisoni Tongotongo and his timely darting runs, especially on the blindside, caused havoc in the second half when North Otago was playing into a strong wind. Ed Keohane was more polished with his ball distribution again an indication of increased confidence while further afield Simeli Koniferedi ran in two tries backed up by his willingness to go looking for opportunities increased his involvement. Sale Pi’i who came on in the second half on the left wing showed just what a game breaker he is with a sensational try.
Up front captain, Josh Clark, was superb on defence with lock Eric Duff producing another 100 per cent effort along with fellow lock Leo Havili, while Uilisoni Tahitua showed his lineout skills and his ability to break a game open with an interception and a 55 metre try. But it was the graft of the whole pack that gave North Otago the base for its win.
Co-coach Mike Mullins was certainly happy with the win.
“That’s three in a row but it was tough, we have got a lot of battered bodies and there’ll be a lot of icepacks later in our rehab. Injuries have been changing our team selections each week. Poverty Bay was tough opposition. Really there are no easy games in Heartland any more. We missed a couple of tries but the boys stuck to the game plan and everyone had their small part to play. I’m happy we got a bonus point and I’m happy that we got everyone on the paddock. Some hadn’t had a run for a couple of weeks.
For Poverty Bay halfback Sam Parkes was by far the best of the backs while number eight and captain Sione Ngatu was strong with the ball in hand while lock Patrick Allan took good ball at the front of the lineout.
Ed Keohane kicked a penalty after ten minutes and the first try came five minutes later when North Otago broke the defence on the short side and Chris Talanoa scored for Keohane to convert. The Poverty Bay defence kept North Otago pointless for the next fourteen minutes before Uilisoni Tahitua, just when Poverty Bay had opened up the North Otago defence, made a timely interception to race 55 metres to score for Keohane to convert. Poverty Bay half Sam Parkes, the pick of the Poverty Bay backs kicked a penalty before two minutes later Keohane added his second penalty goal. A slashing try to right winger Simeli Koniferedi took North Otago out to a 27-3 lead with Keohane’s conversion. Right on halftime after a series of pick and go forays Ngatu barged over for an unconverted try to give North Otago a 27-8 halftime lead.
Four minutes into the second half Koniferedi’s pace and elusiveness gave him his second try which Keohane duly converted to take North Otago out to 34-8. Then two tries in the 59th and 63rd minutes put North Otago clear. A Sale Pi’i burst over the Poverty Bay 10 metre mark opened up the right flank and fullback J’andre Liebenberg was on hand to score for Keohane to convert giving the visitors a 41-8 lead. Pi’i featured again four minutes later when Smith broke on the short side and Pi’i’s power and pace burst three tackles to score an unconverted try. Ironically this produced Poverty Bay’s best session of the game. Parkes went across for a try in the 67th minute to make it 46-13 and although Ralph Darling added North Otago’s eighth try in the 76th minute, Poverty Bay refused to give up and flanker Leon Ake scored an unconverted try.
Round five of Heartland rugby saw Wairarapa-Bush go to the top of the table with 19 points after a 34 - 13 defeat of King Country. Mid Canterbury and West Coast, neither of whom could get a bonus point had wins over South Canterbury (34-27) and East Coast (15-11) respectively. North Otago moved into fourth place with its bonus point win over Poverty Bay heading off fifth placed Buller on points differential after Buller beat Horowhenua-Kapiti, 19-15. Wanganui currently lies in sixth place after a 28-8 win over Thames Valley while King Country (13pts) and Thames Valley (13pts) make up the top eight with three rounds remaining.
NORTH OTAGO 58 (Simeli Koniferedi (2) ,Chris Talanoa, Sale Pi’i, Uilisoni Tahitua, J’ndre Liebenberg, Ralph Darling tries; Ed Keohane 2 pen, 6 con).
POVERTY BAY 18 (Sione Ngatu, Sam Parkes, Leon Ake tries; Parkes pen)
HT: 27-8 North Otago.