Week seven of the Heartland Championship saw North Otago’s Meads Cup playoff aspirations dashed by Mid Canterbury in a 28-7 defeat in Ashburton on Saturday.
The Old Golds had experienced a resurgence in form with two wins in the last fortnight but a third successive victory proved a stretch too far in a replay of last year’s final.
Mid Canterbury started positively in front of a good sized crowd at the Ashburton Showgrounds.
First five-eighth Murray Williams steered a penalty wide in the opening two minutes before Richard Catherwood opened the scoring with the first try of the clash.
The fullback sold a deceptive dummy to touch down under the posts, Williams was on target this time for a 7-0 advantage.
Mid Canterbury began to look menacing in continued waves of attack and a second try looked inevitable as wing Brenton Connell dashed towards the line but for a last-ditch tackle by fullback Brad McKenzie.
North Otago’s luck ran out 20 minutes in as Connell’s explosive running and offload to centre Penis Manumanuniliwa was followed by a slick pass to Nete Caucau, who touched down in the corner for the second try of the encounter.
Williams was unable to capitalise with the conversion from an awkward angle in blustery conditions but slotted a penalty moments later to extend his side’s lead to 15-0.
The Old Golds looked for a reply with determined spells of possession but Mid Canterbury’s defence held firm under mounting pressure.
North Otago’s efforts were to no avail as Williams closed the first half scoring with a penalty on the stroke of halftime for an 18-0 scoreline at the interval.
Two minutes in to the second period, Ben Palmer looked to post the Old Golds’ first points of the tie from a penalty but the first five-eighth could only skim the post from distance.
Williams then added to his growing points haul with a penalty of his own on the hour.
The away side rallied, holding possession for sustained periods as they looked to force their way back in to the contest but the hammers remained defensively sound to the frustration of the travelling North Otago faithful.
Palmer’s deceptive running and well taken pass to wing Simeli Koniferedi was almost rewarded before Williams intercepted on the line and put his boot through the ball to clear the danger.
With ten minutes left to play, replacement Siosiua Ngalo raced over the line to touch down in the corner for North Otago’s first try of the fixture.
Palmer duly converted but Mid Canterbury immediately returned fire through substitute Logan Bonnington, Williams was on target from the conversion.
North Otago piled on the pressure in the closing stages but were unable to find a way through the stubborn Hammers’ defence for a final score of 28-7.
Mike Mullins’ side will now look to take some solace in claiming a Lochore Cup place in their final round-robin clash of the season against East Coast in Oamaru on Saturday, while Mid Canterbury’s match-up against South Canterbury should confirm which of the neighbours secures a Meads Cup playoff place with both currently tied on 21 points.
Mid Canterbury 28 (Nete Caucau, Richard Catherwood, Logan Bonnington tries; Murray Williams 2 con, 3 pen) North Otago 7 (Siosiua Ngalo try; Ben Palmer con)
Heartland Championship week seven results;
Horowhenua Kapiti v South Canterbury, 23-11.
Thames Valley v Poverty Bay, 9-17.
Wanganui v Wairarapa Bush, 38-24.
Buller v West Coast, 29-24.
East Coast v King Country 7-34.
By JAMES FORD
PHOTO: RUBY HARFIELD – North Otago wing Simeli Koniferedi scans his options against Mid Canterbury at the Ashburton Showgrounds on Saturday.