Turnover woes prevented King Country making it two in a row and it was North Otago who triumphed to claim the Mitre 10 Heartland Lochore Cup 44-22 in Te Kuiti on Saturday.
Time after time King Country created chances only to suffer breakdowns that were seized upon efficiently by a North Otago side who scored six tries to three to hammer home the advantage they enjoyed.
It rewarded a big finals campaign for North Otago, who gained their place in the final by upsetting the more favoured Mid Canterbury in the semi-finals 36-24, and they showed little effect of having to play away from home.
Two tries in seven minutes just before time set North Otago up for a 24-8 lead at half-time.
They had taken the lead earlier nine minutes into the game after fullback Craig Smith ran a King Country kick back at them, making a break in midfield and linking with halfback Robbie Smith, left wing Matthew Vocea who made good use of space to find first five-eighths Josh Casey in support to put Robbie Smith in for the try.
King Country dominated possession throughout the half claiming 64 percent and 69 percent of territory but their only try-scoring reward came in the 25th minute after a lineout penalty option which allowed them to unleash their maul.
When it rumbled over the line it was blindside flanker Sam Mason who scored, and that was a good return for the efforts by the King Country loose forwards with flanker Daniel Baxter and No.8 Rob Sherson.
But the turnover issue was one that King Country could not quell and in the 33rd minute Shae Tucker recovered the ball from a turnover and fed left wing Vocea. He fed flying blindside flanker Maene Mapusaga and from 65m out, he turned on the after-burners, put in a goose step and pulled out a big fend to beat the defence and complete a fine try.
Just before half-time another turnover allowed North Otago to camp in the home 22m area and after a five-metre scrum was ordered when the ball was held up, No.8 Filipo Veamatahau ran from the base of the scrum, beat three defenders and scored under the bar.
Into the second half King Country achieved the key try they needed after the resumption after Baxter kicked ahead after North Otago failed to control a lineout. Good chasing saw Sherson catch a defender and from the ruck the ball was moved through the backline where centre Stephan Turner timed his pass well enough for fullback James Hemara to cut back infield and beat three defenders to get over for the try.
However, North Otago responded with another impressive piece of continuity when Sherson lost the ball in midfield. Mapusaga linked with Veamatahau before Vocea and Tucker took the ball ahead. Prop Ralph Darling made a key contribution before second five-eighths Lemi Masoe provided the ball for Vocea to score.
Veamatahau was sin-binned moments later for a foot-trip but King Country turned the ball over again from a lineout five-metres from North Otago’s line and the visitors cleared. They looked likely to go in again but a pass wasn’t held and King Country had a lineout throw just out from their line.
However, they lost the ball and North Otago worked the ball through eight pick-and-goes before a long pass from Casey put wing Simon Lilicama in for an unchallenged try.
Demonstrating the way in which they produced a complete performance was the 68th minute try scored by fullback Craig Smith. The ball had been moved right, left and back again and when Smith thinks about the ease with which he scored he will have plenty to thank Darling for. His pass, the last in the movement, was perfect – a quick hand-on which took the defence out of the play brilliantly.
King Country 22 (Sam Mason, James Hemara, Anthony Wise tries; Zayn Tipping con, pen)
North Otago 44 (Maene Mapusaga, Filipo Veamatahau, Robbie Smith, Matthew Vocea, Simon Lilicama, Craig Smith tries; Josh Casey 4 con)