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A split has started to appear in the Southern region as the top five teams begin to separate themselves from the bottom four.
Clutha Valley is still leading the charge, unbeaten and eight points ahead of second-placed West Taieri. Valley was victorious over West Taieri last weekend to expand the gap.
Valley is the big favourite to finish on top of the log with three games left. It has the bye this weekend and picks up four points to add to its tally. The Valley loose forwards have been dominating their opposition recently, up-and-coming No 8 Liam Turnbull reaping the rewards after being selected in the Otago Country training squad.
West Taieri is just the one point ahead of Clutha in third spot and will host Crescent this weekend in Outram, where a win will all but secure it finals footy. A broken hand suffered by lock Ben Davidson will severely hamper West Taieri’s push forward as the business end approaches.
Clutha’s second half heroics last weekend against Heriot gave it a bonus point win, leaving the side close behind West Taieri in third place. Clutha hosts Clinton this weekend, when the Helen Huddleston/George McKenzie Memorial Trophy will be at stake.
Clutha will be strong favourite to take another five competition points, especially now it has veteran first five-eighth Mathew Korteweg back steering the ship. Heriot sits in fourth place, four points behind Clutha and a single point ahead of Crescent in fifth.
Heriot welcomes Toko to Death Valley and will also be firm favourite to take maximum points. Prop Ben Millar was the only Heriot player to feature in the Otago Country preliminary squad which is a bit of a shock considering how dominant Heriot’s pack have been this year.
Crescent’s bonus point win over Owaka last weekend gave it a fighting chance of making the top four. Crescent talisman Chase Owen continues to show his class and ability on the field, picking up 25 individual points against Owaka.
In the bottom group are Owaka and Toko, both on 15 points, 12 points outside the top five. Clinton (11) and Roxburgh (8) bring up the rear of the table.
Owaka and Toko still have an outside chance of making the finals, but another loss would almost seal their bottom four fate. Owaka travels to Roxburgh and will come up against a confident home side after its first win last weekend.
Toko will find it hard going in Heriot, especially with its depleted forward pack thanks to some significant injuries. Clinton, which started the season on its bare bones in terms of depth, seems to have recovered and now has more fit players than Toko and Owaka combined.
- Francis Parker