North Otago were narrowly beaten 14-12 by Wanganui in the Lochore Cup final at the Whitestone Contracting Stadium yesterday.
Both sides were cautious early on and looked to force errors in a physical battle that remained nil-all until North Otago first five-eighth Ben Palmer produced a burst of pace to dart over the line with 20 minutes on the clock.
Palmer duly picked up the extras with a well taken conversion.
Retaining possession was as consistent as the weather in what became a half of turnovers as both teams attempted to assert themselves, but Wanganui crossed the line with five minutes remaining through halfback Lindsay Horrocks.
Fullback Ace Malo slotted the conversion for a 7-7 stalemate at the interval.
North Otago try scorer Ben Palmer then made way for Stephen Fenemor at half time while Wanganui also rung in the changes with Roman Tutauha replacing hooker Cole Baldwin and Jaye Flaws relieving centre Tevita Taufui.
The visitors began to look menacing on the hour mark and the dominant spell led to a try from inside centre Rhema Sagote.
Malo struck the conversion well as the North Otago faithful kept a tentative eye on the clock.
The Old Golds began to dominate in the home straight and the explosive pace of young wing Matthew Vocea threatened to punish the away side at any time.
The continued pressure culminated in a line-out inside Wanganui’s 22, from which Tenina Sauileoge made a mazy run and produced a stunning off-load for Vocea to touch down in the corner with five minutes remaining to the delight of the home support.
Stephen Fenemor was unsuccessful from the conversion for a 14-12 scoreline, but North Otago continued to play with confidence.
Referee Jamie Nutbrown then awarded North Otago a penalty in the last minute of the tie, just inside Wanganui’s half but Fenemor could only steer the ball wide of the posts with the last kick of the contest as the pocket of Wanganui fans applauded the final whistle.
In the weekend’s other final, Mid Canterbury retained the Meads Cup with a 36-13 victory over Buller in Westport.
North Otago 12; try, Palmer, Vocea. Con, Palmer.
Wanganui 14; try Lindsay Horrocks, Rhema Sagote. Con, Ace Malo 2.
By JAMES FORD
PHOTO: JAMES FORD – North Otago captain Josh Clark in action during his side’s 14-12 loss to Wanganui yesterday.