Top of the table South Canterbury hold on against North Otago in Heartland Championship

South Canterbury captain Kieran Coll charges towards North Otago halfback Robbie Smith in the Heartland Championship.
DOUG FIELD/STUFF

South Canterbury captain Kieran Coll charges towards North Otago halfback Robbie Smith in the Heartland Championship.

South Canterbury banked a valuable five points against North Otago to stay top of the Heartland Championship but there is still plenty to work on.

A gallant North Otago came to play and South Canterbury scrambled to a 36-29 win after holding on at the death.

Every time the 'green and blacks' looked likely to pull away the Old Golds came straight back.

South Canterbury captain Kieran Coll with the Hanan Shield after defeating North Otago in the Heartland Championship.
DOUG FIELD/STUFF

South Canterbury captain Kieran Coll with the Hanan Shield after defeating North Otago in the Heartland Championship.

With upsets elsewhere in the championship South Canterbury maintained a two point lead from surprise package Horowhenua Kapiti, with Thames Valley and Buller a further two points in arrears.

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South Canterbury coach Barry Matthews was happy with the competition points.

A hat trick to South Canterbury wing Kalavini Leatigago help sink North Otago in their Heartland Championship clash in ...
DOUG FIELD/STUFF

A hat trick to South Canterbury wing Kalavini Leatigago help sink North Otago in their Heartland Championship clash in Timaru.

'We played really well in parts but also let them back into the game which was frustrating.

"I was proud of the way we defended in the final 10 minutes."

Matthews said the lineouts and some of the option taking still needed to improve.

"North Otago are always a challenge so it is good to get the points."

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North Otago coach Nigel Walsh was pleased his side got themselves back in the game but rued the missed opportunities.

"The 50-50 balls cost us and there were a few opportunities we blew.

"We just need to take our chances.''

That has been the story of the Old Golds campaign so far.

Walsh also thought South Canterbury got the rub of the green with the referee's calls, especially in the first half.

The loss leaves North Otago with a huge job if they hope to make the Meads Cup semi-finals with only two wins and they still have Wanganui to play in the final round.

South Canterbury started brightly with two tries inside 10 minutes.

Fullback Liam Edwards used his pace to go through a gap and sent wing  Kalavini Leatigago away.

Leatigago turned the last defender inside out to score the first of his three tries.

Halfback Willie Wright was on hand to score the second after South Canterbury stretched North Otago down the flanks and then landed the sideline conversion to go up 12-0.

South Canterbury then gifted North Otago a penalty before scoring their third try when No.8 Brad Hemopo made the most of a gap out wide.

Dan Lewis was lucky to get one back against the run of play after an intercept, chip and chase.

The North Otago first five appeared to push the last defender away from the bouncing ball but the try stood and his conversion had the Old Golds back in it at 17-10.

Lewis was in the action again when he cleverly stepped through the defence and set centre Lisala Halaleva up for the try. 

Leatigago had the final say of the half after a quick tap caught North Otago napping out wide  to make halftime 22-15. 

The lead a was again stretched early in the second half when centre Vatiliai Tora crashed over in a tackle but North Otago again replied through second five Lemi Masoe.

With 54 minutes gone Tora bust through the defence and sent Leatigaga away for his hat trick. Again Masoe replied and at 36-29 it was all on.

The final 10 minutes was all North Otago but some superb defence meant they could not get over the line, giving the hosts their fourth win in five games.

North Otago had the edge in the set pieces but South Canterbury were better out wide.

For the Old Golds veteran centre Masoe was very good while No.8 Mika Mafi had big game considering he had played 79 minutes for Otago against Auckland on Thursday night.

South Canterbury's best were openside Nick Strachan and halfback Willie Wright who defended very well, while the elusive Kalavini Leatigaga kept up his try scoring antics on the wings.

Edwards was also very good in his return, not putting a foot wrong at fullback.

Lock Luke Brice was good around the paddock while Prop Ben Hewitson also came off the bench to notch up his 50th cap and put in his usual tidy performance.

Captain Kieran Coll impressed with his defence around the fringes while Hemopo was prominent again with some good ball carrying.

The win meant South Canterbury retained the Hanan Shield, Phil Gard Memorial Cup and the Direen Cup.

It also meant South Canterbury edged to a 5-4 overall lead in their Heartland clashes, showing how close the contests have been since 2006. 

At a glance: South Canterbury 36 (Kalavini Leatigaga 3, Brad Hemopo, Vatiliai Tora, Willie Wright tries; Wright 3 con) North Otago 29 (Lemi Masoe 2,Lisala Halaeva,  Dan Lewis tries; Lewis 3 con, pen). HT: 22-15

 - Stuff

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