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The side lost its way in the final quarter, its decision-makers showing an unwillingness or an inability to stick to the pattern.
North Otago co-coach Nigel Walsh felt his side allowed Horowhenua-Kapiti back into the game.
"Did it get away from us or did we give it away?" Walsh asked.
"You could look at it either way. We had a game plan to go by, but it wasn’t played on the paddock.
"It was pretty disappointing, to be fair."
First five-eighth Josh Buchan opened the scoring for North Otago with a penalty shortly after he had broken the line.
Horowhenua-Kapiti hit back midway through the half when winger Dylan Taylor ambled in for a try.
But North Otago opened up a 17-7 lead after tries to fullback Simon Lillicama and winger Hemaua Samasoni.
The visitor scored just before the break, when centre Kalim Kelemete crossed the chalk.
It struck again shortly after the resumption, when Buchan dropped a poor pass from his halfback.
Horowhenua-Kapiti midfielder Timoci Serawalu swooped on a fortuitous bounce and scored beside the posts.
Trailing 24-17, North Otago drew level when Buchan split the defence and rushed 55m to score.
But Horowhenua-Kapiti got back in front through a penalty with 17 minutes remaining, and held on to win.
Oddly, North Otago went away from shifting the ball wide, where it had been getting plenty of traction.
"There was some good stuff — don’t get me wrong," Walsh said.
"But to win these games you’ve got to stick to the game plan."It certainly wasn’t our plan to kick so much ball away. We wanted to keep it in hand."
It was not all bad for North Otago. Lillicama added spark from fullback. Lock Anthony Amato put in another strong performance and flanker Filipo Veamatahau was industrious.
In the other Heartland games, South Canterbury thrashed East Coast 100-7.
Unbeaten sides Wanganui and King Country accounted for Mid Canterbury 30-12 and Thames Valley 37-29 respectively.
Wairarapa Bush caused a minor upset by toppling Buller 61-29, and West Coast edged Poverty Bay 31-30.
- Terry O'Neill
Dylan Taylor, Kalim Kelemete, Timoci Serawalu tries; James So’oialo 3 con, 2 pen)
North Otago 24
Josh Buchan, Simon Lillicama, Hemaua Samasoni tries; Buchan 3 con, pen
Halftime: 17-14 North Otago.