North Otago held on for a vital 22-19 win over South Canterbury at Forsyth Barr Stadium to keep their Meads Cup aspirations alive in Dunedin on Saturday.
The Old Golds started well with first five-eighth Ben Palmer opening the scoring from a penalty inside three minutes. The Englishman missed another penalty from a similar position moments later.
South Canterbury began to look more lively and applied pressure but a sturdy North Otago defence held firm before Palmer put his boot through the ball to the relief of the Old Golds faithful.
In the absence of stalwart centre Lemi Masoe – due to a groin injury – Tenina Sauileoge did the number 13 jersey proud with a mazy run leading to the first try of the encounter on the quarter-hour mark. Palmer duly converted for a 10-0 advantage as North Otago looked to take control.
Lock Sale Pi’i was next on the score sheet from a quick tap penalty to bundle over the line and extend North Otago’s lead, from which Palmer converted to add to his growing points haul.
South Canterbury returned fire through Telusa Latu, with the hooker receiving a neatly-taken pass from half back Sekope Maea to touch down in the corner and post his side’s first try of the clash. First five Kurt Rooney was unable to capitalise from the conversion at an awkward angle.
After opening their account, South Canterbury began to play with a renewed sense of vigour, dominating possession for long periods in continual waves of attack, before Palenapa Mafi received a yellow card for killing the ball. Despite the loss of the prop, the North Otago defence held out.
North Otago began to look overwhelmed as South Canterbury’s Paula Fifita made a stealthy charge to the line, only for wing Simeli Koniferedi to produce a try-saving tackle in the nick of time to keep the score 17-5 at the interval.
North Otago were awarded a penalty two minutes in to the second period, but Palmer could only rattle the post from distance.
For the next 20 minutes, the Old Golds were forced to batten down the hatches as a determined South Canterbury looked to find a way back in to the tie.
The green and blacks’ efforts were to no avail as replacement Don Lolo touched down next for an unconverted try to extend North Otago’s lead to 22-5.
Undeterred, South Canterbury hit back through skipper Sam Vea three minutes later for Rooney to slot the conversion.
Fellow flanker Nick Strachan then bolstered his side’s comeback campaign with a try five minutes from full time.
Rooney was on target from the conversion for a nervy finish as South Canterbury looked to avoid their second loss of the season, but as it had throughout the contest, North Otago’s defence stood firm to hold on the the narrow lead.
North Otago 22 (Teina Sauileoge, Sale Pi’i, Don Lolo tries; Ben Palmer 2 con, pen) South Canterbury 19 (Telusa Latu, Sam Vea, Nick Strachan tries; Jared Trevathan 2 con). HT: 17-5
Heartland Championship week six results:
West Coast v Wanganui, 23-17.
Wairarapa Bush v Thames Valley, 20-18.
Buller v Horowhenua Kapiti, 19-12.
East Coast v Mid Canterbury, 12-67.
Poverty Bay v King Country, 35-29.
By JAMES FORD
PHOTO: BRAYDEN LINDSAY – North Otago’s Ekeroma Sauileoge makes a tackle at Forsyth Barr Stadium on Saturday.