In a sensational first forty minutes of rugby, West Coast, which had won only one of its previous seven games, piled on forty four points in the first spell to establish a margin that North Otago was unable to equal or pass in the final forty minutes with the home team holding on for a 54-42 victory. This loss however gave North Otago a better result as far as the Lochore Cup semi-finals are concerned. A Wairarapa-Bush win over East Coast allowed it to leapfrog Mid Canterbury and thrust Mid Canterbury back into the Lochore Cup playoffs, whereas top qualifier it will play the fourth placed qualifier, North Otago In Ashburton next Saturday.
North Otago co coach, Nigel Walsh believed that first half was a real surprise. “We just gave them the first forty minutes where West Coast came out and threw everything at us. They had a couple of things to play for today. They were playing their last game of the season plus they were playing for one of their team mates, who is in hospital suffering from a brain bleed. We passed on to Cuttie (Sean Cuttance, West Coast coach, our sympathy for the player.”
North Otago conceded a penalty try in the ninth minute for deliberately knocking the ball down to give the home side an 8-0 lead. Three minutes later a North Otago handling mistake saw West Coast left winger speed eighty metres to score to make it 14-0. Three minutes later while on attack North Otago turned over the ball and Erenimo Tau raced seventy metres to score for first five eighth Nik Cumming to convert and take West Coast out to a 22-0 lead. A couple of minutes later Cumming sold a superb dummy to score and convert to take West Coast out to a 30-0 lead Fourteen minutes from half to take his side out to a 38-6 lead time North Otago broke its duck when lock Jared Whitburn drove through three tackles to score an unconverted try. West Coast replied with a second Tau try which Cumming converted before Craig Smith and Matthew Vocea combined for Vocea to score for Tyron Davies to convert from wide out. But sixty seconds later, West Coast second five eighth Logan Heath touched down to give his side a 44-14 halftime lead.
“I don’t think that we were shell shocked or whether we were just trying to hard”, stated Walsh. “We were too often trying to score from the first phase ball instead of having patience and setting phases together. When we did get three or so phases together we found holes in their defence and scored a couple of tries. But we just panicked which was a bit disappointing really.”
But North Otago came back in the second half to get within twelve points of West Coast.
“It was one hell of a comeback to get within twelve points of West Coast with twelve minutes to go. I thought we were in for a bit of a sniff.”
Fifteen minutes into the second half a try to Simon Lilicama converted by Davies made it 44-22. A Cumming penalty made it 46-22. Lilicama and Soni Tongotongo scored tries in the space of three minutes but a loose pass saw Tau race thirty five metres to score for Cumming to convert, but North Otago had the final say when Ralph Darling walked in for a try which Brad McKenzie converted but West Coast held out for the final three minutes.
“The boys played some great rugby in the second half with them showing just what they were capable of doing in the third quarter. If they’d played the same way in the first half we might have been talking differently now.”
Some players did little harm to their reputations maintained Walsh. “Jared Whitburn is having a great season as he’s shown in the last couple of weeks against King Country and South Canterbury. He’s taken a big step up from what he was doing and what he is doing now. Matt Duff is another who has made the most of his chances after coming back into the team, as has winger Simon Lilicama but unfortunately it looks as though he’ll be out with a shoulder injury as will Sione Misiloi.”
In other games Wanganui retained top spot beating Horowhenua-Kapiti, 20-12, Poverty Bay beat Thames Valley, 50-14 to move into the Lochore Cup playoffs, South Canterbury downed Mid Canterbury, 14-0, Buller beating King Country, 40-38 and Wairarapa Bush beat East Coast, 44-22.
In the Meads Cup semi-finals, Wanganui will host Wairarapa Bush next Saturday and South Canterbury will play Buller. In the Lochore Cup semi-finals Mid Canterbury will play North Otago in Ashburton, and King Country will play Poverty Bay.