North Otago registered its first win in Ashburton against Mid Canterbury since 2006 when in a Lochore Cup semi-final the fourth ranked team defeated the top qualifier, 36-24 at the Ashburton Showgrounds on Saturday. The margin was wider than the final score would indicate with Mid Canterbury picking up two late converted tries in the last ten minutes after North Otago was reduced to fourteen players when experienced midfielder Lemi Masoe was yellow carded.
Mid Canterbury made the ideal start when first five eight Jared Percival got a fortuitous bounce inside the North Otago twenty two to score and convert to give the home side an 8-0 lead after two minutes. But that was to be the only scoring for Mid Canterbury for the next seventy one minutes as North Otago's resolute and aggressive defence effectively shut Mid Canterbury out of the game.
North Otago co coach, Barry Stevens was effusive after the game. "I'm just exceptionally proud of the guys and the way they played. Early on in the week we talked about the mental side of the game and today the guys turned and showed real urgency on attack. The defence was great. Our line speed was such that they couldn't handle it and they sort of started to panic and we turned a lot of their ball over. And when we got opportunities this week we took them and scored points."
North Otago levelled the score in the fifth minute when a Mid Canterbury throw into a defensive lineout eight metres from its line sailed over the lineout to be scooped up by Masoe who touched down beside the posts for fullback Craig Smith to convert.
North Otago's accurate defence put the opposition under pressure and in the seventeenth minute North Otago took a lead it was not to relinquish. Front rower Ralph Darling made the initial inroads into the defence. Lock Jared Whitburn, whose work rate was impressive, drove on and flanker Maene Mapusaga was on hand to score.
Twelve minutes from halftime with North Otago applying the pressure a well-placed kick by halfback Robbie Smith, who had an outstanding game, put North Otago back on attack and when the ball spilled loose on the opposition line left winger Matthew Vocea was on hand to touch down to give North Otago a 20-8 halftime lead.
At halftime Stevens stated that defence was the key. "Defence is nine tenths ticker and attitude and that's what we brought today. The guys really enjoyed it out there and they just grew on the back of each otherís work rate."
Ten minutes into the second half came the try of the game from North Otago halfback Smith. From a scrum North Otago heaved Mid Canterbury back off the ball and Smith broke on the blindside to shrug off two tacklers and race thirty metres to score for brother Craig to convert and take North Otago out to a 28-8 lead. Twenty minutes later Mapusaga exploded through the Mid Canterbury defence to race thirty five metres to take his side out to a 34-8 lead. Ten minutes from fulltime replacement five eighth Tyron Davies kicked a fifty metre penalty to put the game beyond the reach of Mid Canterbury which in the last seven minutes produced tries to open side flanker Jordan Stewart, certainly the pick of the Mid Canterbury pack along with captain Eric Duff, and replacement hooker Brendon Ridgen, with Percival converting to both gave the Mid Canterbury effort some respectability.
North Otago will travel to King Country for the Lochore Cup final next weekend after King Country scored seven tries in its 48-26 win over Poverty Bay to set up a repeat of the 2015 Lochore Cup final between the two, after the two sides had battled out a four all draw in the qualifying rounds.
In the Meads Cup semi-finals, Buller upset South Canterbury 16-6 in Timaru while unbeaten Wanganui handed out a 58-26 to Wairarapa-Bush.
North Otago 36 (Lemi Masoe, Maene Mapusaga (2), Matthew Vocea, Robbie Smith tries; Craig Smith 2 con; Tyron Davies pen), Mid Canterbury 24 (Jared Percival, Jordan Stewart, Brendon Ridgen tries; Percival 3 con). HT: 20-8 North Otago.