North Otago winger Simon Lillicama scored in the final moments of the game to help snatch a dramatic 34-33 win against Mid Canterbury at the Ashburton Showgrounds on Saturday.
North Otago led 10-7 at the break, but fell behind late in the game, when Mid Canterbury winger Timoci Nabakeke crossed for the last of his four tries.
He was mightily impressive. His pace and ability to evade tacklers almost carried the home team to victory.
The win moves North Otago up to second-equal with Wanganui after two rounds.
The first half was placid by comparison with the second spell. North Otago first five-eighth Josh Buchan ripped the defence apart to race more than 60 metres to score.
Nabakeke showed his talent not long after. He beat three defenders to get his haul of five-pointers under way.
Buchan drilled a penalty five minutes before the break to establish a slim buffer.
The second 40 exploded as both teams gave the ball air. North Otago prop Ralph Darling took a tap penalty 30 metres out and a few rucks later got across for a try.
Nabakeke replied with his blistering pace, leaving tackler after tackler in his wake on a 40m burst to the corner.
The teams traded two more tries, setting up a thrilling finish. But the game looked to have slipped away from North Otago when Nabakeke won the race to the ball to score his fourth try.
With a minute remaining, powerful loose forward Mika Mafi breached the defence inside the Mid Canterbury 22.
Darling was in support but was dragged down a metre out, but Lillicama snapped up the ball and dived across. Buchan’s conversion sealed the win.
North Otago coach Nigel Walsh never lost faith.
“They all believed in each other and believed they could win,” he said.
“They’ve developed already the character, the self-belief and the culture and it showed in the second half. Despite trailing just on full time they had the ability to take the game.
“I’m very happy with two wins on the board. It’s some time since we’ve done that and we picked up a bonus point, so we can put the points in the bank and go home.”
In the other games, Thames Valley beat Wairarapa-Bush 44-32, Wanganui accounted for West Coast 33-21, South Canterbury dispatched Poverty Bay 40-11, King Country defeated Buller 30-28 and Horowhenua-Kapiti beat East Coast 46-8.
North Otago 34
(J Buchan, R Darling, I Naufahu, J Fakatoufifita, S Lillicama tries; J Buchan penalty, 3 conversions)
Mid Canterbury 33
(T Nabakeke 4, S Koroitamana tries; J Percival con; A Letham 3 con)
Halftime: 10-7 North Otago.
https://www.odt.co.nz/ – Terry O’Neill