North Otago 22
Wanganui have a record of making their next opponents pay dearly after suffering a defeat, and today North Otago suffered the consequences of Wanganui's loss to East Coast last week.
A much more aggressive Wanganui finally got their attack going at Cooks Gardens in Wanganui, running in seven tries to three in their 39-22 win over an opponent that has always troubled them in the Heartland competition.
Unhappily though for the Heartland Championship holders, they lost goalkicking whiz Mark Davis to a potentially serious medial ligament injury. There will be fingers crossed all over Wanganui in the next 48 hours as they await the results of a scan to assess the amount of damage.
No 2 halfback Sean Brown filled in more than adequately at first five-eighths, but the goalkicking now becomes a serious problem for Wanganui. They converted just two of the seven tries and many were from relatively easy positions.
With the forwards being more aggressive and controlled, Wanganui's backs were finally able to cut loose, with Auckland University powerhouse Rhema Sagote outstanding at second five-eighths with his brutal attacks on the North Otago defence.
He was backed up by the increasingly silky skills of lanky centre Saul Chase, who scored a try for the fifth consecutive game.
Right wing Simon Dibben and fullback Ace Malo also started to enjoy themselves, even though North Otago did not flinch on defence.
The best of the Wanganui forward pack were young lock Nick Cranston, who was outstanding with his bucket-sized hands, loosehead prop Gene Ropoama and veteran captain Peter Rowe.
North Otago's danger came from fullback Hamish Buick, who created panic in Wanganui's defensive ranks before being injured, and the centre pairing of Billy Guyton and Lemi Masoe. Blindside flanker Tony Lambourn was the best of a forward pack which kept battling.
But North Otago made too many simple mistakes when they had the ball to really impose enough pressure on Wanganui.
North Otago now seems headed for the Lochore Cup division, unless there are a bundle of upsets in the next two rounds.
Wanganui sneaked back into the lead on the countback after previous leaders Wairarapa-Bush were held to three tries in beating King Country 25-15 today.
Wanganui 39 (Simon Dibben 2, Rhema Sagote 2, Ace Malo, Saul Chase, Vaan Rauhina tries; Mark Davis con, Ace Malo con) North Otago 22 (Tom Verdonk, Tala Fagalasola, Chris Talanoa tries; Hamish Buick con, Billy Guyton pen, con). HT: 22-12.