North Otago have secured a home Lochore Cup final against Wanganui after downing South Canterbury at the Alpine Energy Stadium in Timaru on Saturday.
Wanganui toppled King Country 37-6 in the opposite semi-final but will be Oamaru-bound for the final after finishing below the Old Golds on the round-robin points table.
In dismal conditions, North Otago looked the more dominant of the two sides early on before first five-eighth Ben Palmer broke the deadlock via a neatly taken penalty from under the posts with nine minutes played.
South Canterbury returned fire through first five Angus Compton Bowyer, who was in place of play-maker Kurt Rooney due to an ankle injury. Compton Bowyer struck again five minutes later to give his side a 6-3 lead.
As both sides struggled on the greasy surface, schoolboy wing Matthew Vocea exploited his pace to touch down in the corner for the only try of the encounter.
Ben Palmer made allowances for the conditions to take the extras with a well-taken conversion from a tricky angle to record a 10-6 advantage.
Both sides continued to concede penalties as Compton Bowyer trimmed North Otago’s lead to a point with 25 minutes played.
North Otago tighthead Rob Mafileo then made way for Palenapa Mafi for the forward’s 50th appearance for the Old Golds.
There was little time for sentiment, however, as Mafi was immediately called into action as the home side piled on the pressure before Palmer kicked to clear the danger.
Kilioni Taufa was then sin-binned for a high tackle and Compton Bowyer duly slotted the penalty from distance to give the green and blacks a narrow 12-10 lead on the stroke of half-time.
The teams returned from the sheds to a heavy drizzle but North Otago were quickly on the offensive as Palmer slotted his second penalty of the day from long range, in what would be the Englishman’s last contribution of the contest before being relieved by Stephen Fenemor.
Compton Bowyer’s effort from a penalty then fell frustratingly short but Fenemor quickly found his range with a well-taken penalty 20 minutes into the second period as North Otago’s lead extended to 16-12.
Stalwart Lemi Masoe then finished his shift on the right-wing and was replaced by Joe Marston.
South Canterbury began to dominate possession in spells as the final whistle grew closer but Mike Mullins’ side were well organised and defensively sound to soak up the pressure and claim a place in the Lochore Cup final.
South Canterbury coach Chester Scott said he was disappointed with the tie and couldn’t chose between North Otago and Wanganui in the final.
“It was a very poor game. There were plenty of errors on both sides and we probably made more errors and didn’t take our opportunities.
“Both sides on their day are very good sides. It’s a tough one to call, really, so I think I’ll sit on the fence on that,” he said.
In the Meads Cup semi-finals, Buller’s 100 per cent record continued with a 20-15 victory over Horowhenua Kapiti in Westport, while Mid Canterbury downed Poverty Bay 29-22 in Gisborne.
The Hammers will be hosted by Buller and Victoria Square in the Meads Cup final on Saturday and North Otago will entertain Wanganui at the Whitestone Contracting Stadium.
South Canterbury 12; Crompton Bowyer 4, pen.
North Otago 16; Palmer 2 , Fenemor 1, pen. Palmer, con. Vocea, try.
By JAMES FORD
PHOTO: JAMES FORD – Wing Matthew Vocea scored the only try of the clash at the Alpine Energy Stadium on Saturday.