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North Otago showed its fitness in a second-half comeback.
It beat Otago Country 41-38 on Saturday in a 13-try exhibition in Twizel.
North Otago kept in touch, going to halftime trailing 24-15, but in the second half turned around for a thrilling 41-38 victory.
For North Otago coach Jason Forrest, Otago Country’s performance was no surprise.
"This was not unexpected — just hard tackling and running when in possession," he said.
"Yes, they were a very good side but our new group of forwards came through in the second half after we trailed at halftime.
"Yes, she was a close one, right up to the final whistle.
"We had some fine individual performances.
"Halfback Mataitini Feke usually plays five-eighths in club rugby and we didn’t really know how he would perform at halfback but his tries, vital ones too, showed that he might be the answer to the position with Robbie Smith not available."
His defence around the fringes was also outstanding, Forrest said.
"We expected what Otago Country brought to the game.
Country ripped into their rugby and it was deep into the match before North Otago broke them down, he said.
"So it was a pretty good effort, but we’ve got a Hanan Shield challenge from South Canterbury next weekend in Oamaru and I’m picking that they will be an even better side."
Feke gave North Otago impetus five minutes into the game with an unconverted try but Otago Country hit back.
There were tries from winger Ropini Fesilau, Andy Caruthers and fellow flanker Daniel Hurring while Chase Owen’s conversions put Otago Country out to 17-5 lead after the first quarter.
North Otago kept in contact in the latter part of the half.
Junior Fakatoufifita raced 50m to score, before fullback Josh Phipps added a conversion to narrow the gap.
Second five-eighth Johnny Sargent touched down for Owen to convert, giving the home team a 24-15 halftime lead.
The first 12 minutes of the second spell saw North Otago score tries to Feke (2) and Sione Kavatoe, with Phipps adding conversions to put North Otago into a 34-31 lead 12 minutes into the second spell.
Otago Country centre Hayden Todd added Otago Country’s final try with Owen’s conversion putting Otago Country out to a 38-34 lead.
But two minutes from fulltime Sione Kavatoe went in for another try which Phipps converted, giving North Otago a 41-38 win before referee Dylan Winter blew the final whistle.
- Terry O'Neill