North Otago have secured a Meads Cup home semi-final after downing Horowhenua Kapiti 27-22 at the Whitestone Contracting Stadium on Saturday and will now host Wairarapa Bush following their shock 23-15 defeat to Thames Valley in Paeroa.
Mid Canterbury finished at the top of the Heartland ladder and will entertain West Coast in the opposite top four fixture following a convincing 31-13 victory over Buller in their final round-robin clash.
Despite the gulf on the points table, Horowhenua Kapiti frayed North Otago nerves throughout the difficult encounter.
Ed Keahone opened the scoring with a neatly taken penalty, in a performance that would see the fullback grab a try, conversion and five penalties.
The visitors fired back through Adrian Curry with a penalty of their own before North Otago winger Alex Brown notched the opening try of the day for an 8-3 lead.
Horowhenua Kapiti refused to lie down as sustained waves of red, white and blue pressure eventually paid off with a try from prop Aaron Kearney, which Curry converted.
The away side began to look menacing as North Otago failed to soak up the continued attacks, culminating in centre Luke Harvey crossing the line for an 8-15 advantage on the half hour mark.
The Old Golds failed to respond and Harvey touched down again moments later, which Curry easily converted.
Keohane hit back with a penalty on the stroke of half time for 11-22 as the dismal weather began to reflect the angst of the North Otago faithful along with the sight of Rangi Hepi being assisted off the field, the tighthead prop sustained broken leg.
The home side returned for the second period with a renewed sense of vigour as Keohane slotted another penalty to offer his team a life line and kick-start what would be a dominant second period.
Openside flanker Uilisoni Tahutia was replaced by Matt Duff before Keohane produced a powerful run to race over the line for the try, which he then converted to bring the Old Golds within a point at 21-22. The Englishman added to his haul with a penalty from the 10m line and another eight minutes from full time to secure the win.
Coach Mike Mullins said a lack of discipline in the first half cost his team but praised the second period performance and is looking forward to the home semi-final clash with Wairarapa Bush.
“(The first half) was frustrating. We weren’t sticking to our game plan. We gave away possession too much but luckily we turned it around,” he said.
“It’s huge that we don’t have to travel and it’s revenue for the union. It’s a big thanks to our sponsors and supporters as well.”
South Canterbury and Wanganui will host semi-finals against Thames Valley and Buller respectively in the Lonchore Cup.
By James Ford