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The match was drawn 36-36. Horowhenua-Kapiti had the edge in the first half, going into the break with a deserved 22-8 lead.
But a reorganised North Otago side picked up its game to out-score the opposition, 28-14.
In the final seconds it hammered the opposition goal line but the defence proved impenetrable.
North Otago coach Barry Stevens was again concerned about his side’s ability to start well.
"We were under a lot of pressure in the first 15 or 20 minutes and we were guilty of turning over too much ball too early in our tackle count," he said.
"In the second half we started to hang on to the ball a bit more and got some go-forward and we looked good, but once again we were just guilty of making those basic mistakes and this let them back into the game.
"Individually, I was pleased with the performances of our two locks, Harvard Fale and Jared Whitburn. Harvard certainly took that step up. But we’ve just got to start better and look after possession and not turn the ball over."
North Otago opened the scoring when right winger Simon Lilicama gathered in a stray pass and raced 70m to score.
Horowhenua-Kapiti re-established its pattern and replied in the 15th minute through powerful loosehead prop Fa’afoi Lo’apo.
Tries to left winger Shai Wiperi and impressive first five-eighth Warwick Lahmert enabled the visitors to take a 22-8 lead into halftime.
North Otago struck back 10 minutes into the second spell. Lilicama made the initial break, Lemi Masoe was in support and centre Shae Tucker went over in the corner.
Masoe was back in the action, bursting through the defence, and Ralph Darling provided the finish to narrow the deficit to two points.
Horowhenua-Kapiti then lost captain Ryan Shelford to a yellow card and North Otago took advantage.
Fale, who impressed in his debut, made a surging run and the ever present Darling was on hand to score.
North Otago led 28-22 going into the final quarter.
Lo’apo muscled over for the visitors to level the game, 28-28.
North Otago got in front again when winger Matthew Vocea scored and Josh Casey converted from out wide with nine minutes remaining.
But it was Lahmert who saved the day for Horowhenua-Kapiti when he weaved his way through the North Otago defence to dot down beside the posts and convert.
Wanganui is the only unbeaten side in Heartland rugby after its 32-30 win over South Canterbury.
Buller beat Poverty Bay 30-18, while King Country was held to a 22-22 draw by Thames Valley.
In the Lochore Cup, Wairarapa-Bush beat Mid Canterbury 26-16 and the West Coast beat East Coast 36-30.
- Terry O'Neill
North Otago 36
Ralph Darling 2, Simon Lilicama, Shae Tucker, Matthew Vocea tries; Josh Casey 3 con
Fa’afoi lo’apo 2, Shai Weperi, Warwick Lahmert 2, Lahmert 3 con
Halftime: Horowhenua-Kapiti 22-8