North Otago’s Meads Cup aspirations were left in tatters following a 17-14 loss to King Country at the Whitestone Contracting Stadium on Saturday in week four of the Heartland Championship.
A Meads Cup semifinal place is still a mathematical possibility but the Old Golds face four tough tests in Thames Valley, South Canterbury, Mid Canterbury and East Coast.
The clash started positively for North Otago with fullback Brad McKenzie opening the scoring with a neatly taken try inside five minutes, from which Stephen Fenemor easily converted.
The Old Golds were then awarded two penalties in quick succession but Fenemor failed to hit the target on both occasions.
King Country began to look lively following a lethargic start with a tap penalty leading to the visitor’s opening try as halfback Zayn Tipping touched down under the posts from which first five Whakataki Cunningham duly converted.
Cunningham slotted a penalty on the half-hour mark to give his side the lead for the first time for a half time score of 10-7.
North Otago’s early second half display looked more convincing as a powerful run from hooker Ralph Darling and an impressive pass culminated in a try for Palenapa Mafi.
Replacement Ben Palmer struck the conversion well as the Old Golds looked to secure their second win of the campaign.
Two opportunities from penalties followed for Palmer but the Englishman failed to capitalise as the home side clung to a narrow 14-10 advantage with 20 minutes to play.
North Otago continued to pressure the North Islanders but a momentary lapse in concentration enabled Second-Five-Eighth Joe Perawiti to break away for King Country’s third try of the encounter.
Cunningham was on target again from the conversion at the death for a 17-14 scoreline.
Buller now sit at the points table’s summit after handing South Canterbury their first loss of the campaign in Westport, and are now the only side with a 100 per cent record while East Coast hold up the rest having not notched a win so far.
Heartland Championship week four results;
Buller v South Canterbury, 19-10.
East Coast v Thames Valley, 8-21.
Mid Canterbury v Wanganui, 30-14.
Wairarapa Bush v Poverty Bay, 10-23.
West Coast v Horowhenua Kapiti, 17-19.
By JAMES FORD
PHOTO: RUBY HARFIELD – Ralph Darling was instrumental in North Otago’s final try.