North Otago coach Glenn Moore was surprised a television match official wasn't on duty in today's NPC second division' />

HAWKE'S BAY 24 NORTH OTAGO 18

North Otago coach Glenn Moore was surprised a television match official wasn't on duty in today's NPC second division rugby semifinal in Napier.

Moore's team were denied what appeared to be a certain try in their 24-18 loss to defending champions Hawke's Bay at McLean Park.

"Our player is confident he got the ball down," Moore said referring to winger Scott Mayhew.

One of the fastest players on the field, Mayhew appeared to win the race to the ball and score a try in the 69th minute.

At that stage North Otago were trailing 21-18.

North Harbour referee Greg Watson, with assistance from a touch judge, disallowed the try and ruled a drop out 22.

"We're a bit gutted," Moore said. "We gave it 120 per cent and I'm proud of the team.

"I'm sure we would have gone on to the final and competed very well," Moore added.

North Otago gave Hawke's Bay a fright as the Magpies recorded their 28th consecutive NPC second division win.

The hosts led 7-5 at halftime.

The halftime and fulltime margins reflected the closeness of the game throughout as North Otago, promoted from the third division this season, stretched Hawke's Bay all over the park.

Hawke's Bay's player-of-the-day, blindside flanker Michael Johnson, scored the first of his two tries which was converted by fullback Tim Manawatu who had earlier missed two penalty attempts at goal.

North Otago fullback Luke Herden scored the visitors' first try in the 30th minute after a clever run from first five-eighth Brett Williams, who fielded a poor clearance kick from Manawatu.

Both teams bombed certain try-scoring opportunities in the first spell.

The Magpies would have scored had centre Andy Barham unloaded to unmarked winger Jacob Kennedy in the eighth minute and North Otago prop Hotili Asi lost the ball forward in a three-on-one attacking situation in the 37th minute.

Two minutes into the second spell the Magpies extended their lead when replacement fullback Colin Bourke landed an easy penalty after Herden was ruled offside at a ruck.

Four minutes later Johnson scored his second try after another strong Magpies forward drive.

A dropped goal from first five-eighth Tumai Edwards had the Magpies 18-5 ahead after 52 minutes.

Asi inspired the North Otago comeback with a try from a quick tap penalty in the 55th minute which Williams converted.

Williams landed two penalties in quick succession to tie the score.

Bourke then kicked the Magpies into next weekend's final with penalties in the 66th and 73rd minutes. They will play the winners of tomorrow's Nelson Bays-Counties Manukau match.

Along with Johnson, hooker Danny Logan and locks Rob Evans and Lua Lokotui had strong games in the winning side.

North Otago impressed with their never-say-die approach to the match.

Mayhew and fellow winger Watisoni Lotawa had plenty of pace while Williams and halfback Ryan McCarthy both enjoyed dominant patches.

Hooker Barry Fox led the gutsy North Otago pack well.

His No 8 Ray Ofisa impressed with his workrate.

Hawke's Bay 24 (Michael Johnson 2 tries; Colin Bourke 3 pens; Tumai Edwards dropped goal; Tim Manawatu con)

North Otago 18 (Luke Herden, Hotili Asi tries; Brett Williams 2 pens, con)

Halftime: 7-5

- HAWKE'S BAY TODAY