The expected strong challenge by fourth-placed Buller didn't eventuate against defending Heartland rugby champions Wanganui today, with the visitors going down 39-12 after being totally outplayed.
With joint leader Wairarapa Bush going down to North Otago in Masterton, that left Wanganui one point clear and needing just a bonus point win against King Country next Saturday to ensure home status for the playoffs.
Wanganui's first use of the powerful wind didn't seem to be successful enough getting towards the end of the first half, but a piece of individual magic by home fullback Ace Malo produced the second try and allowed Wanganui a 20-0 halftime lead.
It all depended on which side scored first. And Wanganui's forwards soon settled that matter with some powerful work which produced three tries in the first 11 minutes into the near gale - and there should have been a fourth had not referee Grant Stuart not been caught on the wrong side and scorer Vaan Rauhina pushed back by the time he had arrived on the scene.
Wanganui wasn't quite at full strength, either, but replacements Vance Pereaka (centre for Saul Chase) and Sean Brown (first-five for usual prolific goalkicker Mark Davis) had outstanding games in the difficult conditions.
Their work was helped by the pinpoint goalkicking of teenaged Nic Harding, and the power work of forwards like flanker Fraser Hammond, No 8 Darren Munro, double tryscorer Gene Ropoama and relatively new hooker Roman Tutauha.
Buller did well enough into the wind but were "wasted" by the first 15 minutes of the second spell. Little hooker Ilaisa Namua and blindside flanker Ben Coman were the best of the forwards, and halfback Andrew Stephens and fullback/first-five Williams Saukuru the best of the backs.
But on the day they all finished second. The only worry for Wanganui is an increasing injury toll, so the next week will be hard work for the medical team.
Wanganui 39 (Gene Ropoama 2, Rhema Sagote, Vance Pereka, Ace Malo tries; Nic Harding 4 cons 2 pens) Buller 12 (Apenisa Ratugoleanavanua 2 tries; William Saukuru con). HT: 20-0.