North Otago have secured a Lochore Cup semi-final showdown against old enemy South Canterbury after handing East Coast a 45-5 hiding at the Whitestone Contracting Stadium on Saturday.
The Old Golds were dominant throughout and picked up a much-needed bonus point to keep themselves in contention for silverware.
Sale Pi’i opened the scoring, the robust lock powered over the line from a shrewdly taken tap penalty inside five minutes, but first five-eighth Ben Palmer was unable to capitalise from the conversion.
Inside centre Ekeroma Sauileoge wheeled over the line moments later as North Otago looked to take control of the contest from the outset.
Palmer was on target from the conversion for a 12-0 advantage.
East Coast replied on the quarter-hour mark and a quickly-taken tap penalty from Pakanui Webb enabled Matanuku Parata to score as fullback Chris Palmer converted from his favoured left side.
North Otago number 8 Matt Mullins injured his shoulder in the process and was replaced by Manulua Taiti.
The Old Golds were well organised in the lineout, which led to the fourth try of the encounter as Samisoni Tongotongo touched down in the corner.
Palmer’s conversion rattled the post before going over from an awkward angle for a 19-5 scoreline.
East Coast began to build some momentum and Palmer attempted to relieve the pressure with a clearance. Hamimoma Waititi charged down the kick but the blindside failed to catch up with the ball as it rolled in to touch, to the relief of the North Otago faithful.
A blast of rain led to some handling issues and a greasy surface as the teams headed to the sheds with a 19-5 score at the interval.
North Otago continued to dominate possession in the second period, with fullback Simeli Koniferedi producing a distinguished performance.
Prop Sione Palaa then made way for replacement Kilioni Taufa, while Robbie Smith relieved Cameron Keenan of halfback duties.
Smith quickly made an impression, capitalising on a defensive error to slide over the line in the corner to secure a much-needed bonus point.
Palmer found his range to slot the conversion for a 26-5 advantage.
Whetu Haerewa then rang in the changes for East Coast, with Kahu Ward replacing Robert Ngarimu at centre, while Patrick McLean relieved hooker Kareti Palmer and Victor Harrison replaced prop Pera Bishop on the hour.
Smith’s fresh legs punished the visitors again with 10 minutes to play with his second try of the encounter. The halfback touched down in the corner, but Palmer failed to convert.
The Old Golds continued to attack and threatened to turn the tie into a rout as Tongotongo crossed the line for his second try of the encounter.
Palmer was on target from the conversion this time as the home side extended their lead to 38-5.
Wing Matthew Vocea, one of three school boys involved for North Otago, was next on the scoresheet.
The youngster’s electric pace left East Coast flat-footed to dart over the line and Palmer picked up the extras.
Vocea was at it against moments later and a dream day almost materialised before his second try was disallowed due to a forward pass for a full time score of 45-5.
North Otago will now face South Canterbury in Timaru while King Country face Wanganui in the opposite Lochore Cup semi-final.
The Meads Cup semi-finals will see unbeaten Buller lock horns with fourth place finishers Horowhenua Kapiti and Poverty Bay take on Mid Canterbury.
North Otago 45 (Sale Pi’i, Ekeroma Sauileoge, Samisoni Tongotongo 2, Robbie Smith 2, Matt Bocea tries; Ben Palmer 5 con) East Coast 5 (Matanuku Parata).
Heartland Championship week eight results:
King Country v Wanganui, 30-29.
Poverty Bay v Horowhenua Kapiti, 13-13.
South Canterbury v Mid Canterbury, 7-24.
Wairarapa Bush v Buller, 36-49.
West Coast v Thames Valley, 27-22.
By JAMES FORD
PHOTO: JAMES FORD – North Otago lock Sale Pi’i on his way to the opening try on Saturday against East Coast.