Otago Boys’ High School are a win away from their first appearance in the National Top Four First XV championship since 2015.
This Saturday, Otago heads north to tackle Christchurch Boys’ High School in the South Island regional final.
In 2014, Otago withdrew from the Otago schools grade to join the Premier Colts competition. Tougher opposition was the theory behind this decision, but after three seasons in the Colts, Otago re-joined their school contemporaries.
Otago’s captain in 2018 is openside flanker Jesse Vaafusuaga. He played in both grades and insists Otago have benefited from a return to college.
“It’s been a big change. In the colts grade the players are much bigger so we tended to spend a lot of time defending and exiting our 22. In the schools grade there are some big boys too, but we get more of the ball which encourages us to play a lot more which has helped us grow as a team,” Vaafusuaga (a Highlanders U18 camp selection) said.
Otago won the school Premiership, pipping John McGlashan College 24-17 in the final. Fullback James Arscott scored a try with the last play. Vaafusuaga captures the drama.
“With a minute to go we won a penalty on halfway and our first-five kicked it to the five-meter mark. We won the lineout and James dummied and got over. It was a real nail bitter and proof there are tough games in the schools grade.”
Southland Boys’ High School contest the Premier Colts grade and hadn’t lost to Otago in two years heading into the Highlanders Regional final on Saturday. They were held to a 14-14 draw (7-7 at halftime) when they met earlier this season.
How did Otago finally break the Southland drought?
“We knew Southland would bring it up front. There a big running team who like to go around the corner a lot. We knew if we could shut them down defensively, they would get frustrated. It was 5-0 at halftime and things opened up in the second-half.”
Otago won 26-7, with winger Michael Manson scoring two tries and first-five Tevita Asi crossing the chalk and playing with considerable authority.
Otago will have to bring authority to their defence this Saturday against Christchurch Boys’ High School. Vaafusuaga identified missed tackles as the biggest reason for Otago’s 26-23 loss in July.
“We scored a couple of tries in the first-half and were pretty confident at the break. Unfortunately that confidence was misplaced and we switched off mentally.
“We conceded three tries in 20 minutes and you can’t do that against a good side.,” Vaafusuaga rues.
If Otago reaches the top four they will face the best the North Island has to offer. Southland in their last two appearances lost Top 4 semi-finals by record scores. Is Vaafusuaga concerned Otago will struggle to compete?
“Not at all. There’s no question it’ll be tough, but you’ve got to back yourself and often the biggest upsets tend to happen in finals,” Vaafusuaga concluded.
Top 4 regional finals this weekend:
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