Defence big factor in hiding

A super defensive effort and a willingness to attack at every opportunity carried North Otago to a resounding 44-22 win over the 2015 Lochore Cup winner, King Country, in Te Kuiti on Saturday.

King Country made first use of a brisk wind but it was North Otago that put the first points on the board.

North Otago fullback Craig Smith split the defence on halfway to send winger Matthew Vocea away down the left flank. First five-eighth Josh Casey was in support and he sent halfback Robbie Smith scampering in for the first try.

Zayn Tipping replied with a penalty, and midway through the half, King Country drew level when, from a lineout drive, blindside flanker Sam Mason scored to level the score at 8-8.

North Otago coach Barry Stevens believed the North Otago defence was outstanding and it set up the next try.

"We’ve talked about defence over the past couple of weeks. I believe that defensive pressure wins these games and we really worked on our line speed and getting into their zone as quickly as possible," Stevens said.

Late in the half, North Otago pressure forced the ball loose and, in a flash, winger Vocea was sent into King Country territory, where he fed flanker Maene Mapusaga, who raced 45m, handing off the fullback in the process, to score North Otago’s  second try. A Lemi Masoe break took North Otago to the King Country line in the final moments of the half, and from a scrum beside the posts, North Otago No8 Filipo Veamatahau crashed over. Casey converted to give North Otago a 24-8 halftime lead.

"I would have been quite happy going into the shed at halftime having played into the wind at eight-all. But to go in with that 24-8 lead was important psychologically to us, and at halftime the message was simply to go out and start again.

"Despite having the wind at our backs, we had to make it happen and play for field position. Our focus was to score points and deny the opposition points to take them out of the game."

But it was the home side that struck first. King Country kicked deep inside North Otago’s 22, and, when No8 Rob Sherson caught Vocea in possession, it was fullback James Hemera who went in for an unconverted try. A minute later, a Sherson dropped ball and some slick passing  resulted in Vocea going in for a try.

North Otago was reduced to 14 players when Veamatahau was yellow carded for tripping an opposition player. But Casey fired a long pass to right winger Simon Lilicama, who raced 30m unopposed to score and take North Otago out to 38-14.

Casey was instrumental in the next try as well. He made a halfbreak, and fullback Craig Smith finished off the move.King Country scored a consolation try two minutes into overtime when lock Anthony Wise scored.

"I couldn’t be more proud of them," Stevens said.

"They were going down with cramp late in the game but no-one wanted to come off, and just to see the smiles on the guys’ faces makes it all worthwhile."

- Terry O'Neill


Heartland Champ
The scores

North Otago                     44

Robbie Smith, Maene Mapusaga, Filipo Veamatahau, Matthew Vocea, Simon Lilicama, C Smith tries; J Casey 3 con

King Country                    22

Sam Mason, James Hemera, Anthony Wise tries; Zayn Tipping pen, conHalftime: North Otago 24-8

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