Second-half fightback earns the win

North Otago lock Pita Sinamoni heads in to score a try against Buller in their Heartland...
North Otago lock Pita Sinamoni heads in to score a try against Buller in their Heartland Championship match in Oamaru on Saturday. Photo: Getty Images
North Otago staged a great fightback in the second half to beat Buller 30-24 at Whitestone Contracting Stadium on Saturday.

Buller had the better of the first half, leading 19-10 at halftime, but the young North Otago side lifted its game to pick up maximum points in the first round of Heartland rugby.

North Otago coach Nigel Walsh said he believed at the break that his side  would come back.

"Sure we were down 19-10 late in the first half, but we’d done a lot of defending and made too many mistakes.

"We turned over eight turnovers and conceded five penalties and you can’t play rugby doing that.

"We knew that if we held on to the ball with patience and won four or five breakdowns we could crack Buller open.

"It was all about self-belief really.

"We talked at halftime about the lack of intensity.

"We needed to get out of first gear in the second half and bring that intensity and accuracy back into our game.

"We must remember we’ve got a lot of young players in the team ...  .

"There’s a good culture in the side and they worked hard and came out of it with a win under the belt."

Buller opened the scoring in the 21st minute when No8 Jeff Lepa broke the North Otago line and from the scrum blindside winger Iliesa Ravudra broke the defensive line to score, before first five-eighth James Lash converted.  North Otago hit back three minutes later.

Hamish Slater and Frank Kelly set up prop Ralph Darling to scurry 38m for a try, which Buchan converted.

Veteran Buller fullback Robbie Malneek then opened the defence inside the North Otago 22 to score.

Lash’s conversion took Buller out to a 14-7 lead.

Three minutes from halftime, Buller hooker Anthony Ellis burrowed over from a lineout drive but Lash could not convert. Buchan slotted a penalty a minute from halftime to leave Buller leading 19-10.

Buchan kicked a penalty two minutes into the second spell and eight minutes later North Otago put a penalty out in the corner. North Otago lock Pita Sinamoni won the lineout and drove.

North Otago second five-eighth Taina Tamou broke the Buller defence and right winger Simon Lillicama finished off with a try.

Buchan converted to give North Otago a 20-19 lead.

It held the lead until the 64th minute when Malneek used his pace to score his second try to put his side ahead 24-20. But that lead was only for four minutes as Lillicama opened up the Buller defence.

Flanker Junior Fakatoufifita burst to the Buller 22 and lock Sinamoni was on hand to score.

Buchan’s conversion put North Otago out to a 27-24 lead and he then kicked a 40m penalty to bring it home 30-24.

In the curtain-raiser, North Otago A defeated New Zealand Marist Colts 33-24.

In Heartland round one games, Wanganui beat South Canterbury 21-10, Mid Canterbury defeated Horowhenua-Kapiti 30-24, King Country handed East Coast a 75-17 drubbing, Poverty Bay accounted for Wairarapa-Bush 27-22 and West Coast upended Thames Valley 27-25.

• In the Highlanders co-ed semifinal rugby match, Gore High School First XV kicked a late penalty to defeat St Kevin’s College first XV 23-20 and will now play Rangiora High School in the South Island final.

- Terry O'Neill


Heartland Championship
The scores

North Otago     30

P Sinamoni 2, R Darling, S Lillicama tries; J Buchan 2 pen, 2 con

Buller     24

R Malneek 2, I Ravudra, A Ellis tries; J Lash 2 con

Halftime:  19-10

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