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North Otago went to the top of the Heartland Championship after a last-minute penalty from Robbie Smith gave the side a 22-21 win over Thames Valley in Oamaru on Saturday.
North Otago led 16-14 at halftime but Thames Valley fought its way back to lead 21-16 five minutes into the second half.
It was an enthralling final few minutes as North Otago put real pressure on Thames Valley.
A Smith penalty in the last quarter put North Otago two points behind the visitor, before grinding pick-and-go tactics resulted in North Otago being awarded a penalty 12m outside the Thames Valley 22m line and Smith kicked his fifth penalty.
North Otago is now three points clear at the top of the table and the only unbeaten team in the competition.
North Otago's co-coach Jason Forrest was a little shocked with the thrilling finish.
"Again it wasn't the prettiest of performances, possibly because of the slippery conditions, but was a great exhibition of defence by the boys," he said.
"We didn't start well and when we got into our rhythm a 50-50 pass would kill the movement.
"I generally wouldn't call the squad a group of battlers but in those last few minutes we showed discipline, got into the opposition territory, forced a penalty and Robbie Smith kicked the winning goal.
"We've got to remember that Thames Valley were last season's Meads Cup winners and to beat them on home soil was an achievement."
Smith opened the scoring in the sixth minute with a penalty but three minutes later first five-eighth Lachie Kingan fly-kicked a ball and it was gathered in by Thames Valley centre Sam McCahon, who
touched down, for first five-eighth Reece Broughton to convert.
About halfway through the first half a loose kick was gathered by North Otago centre Lemi Masoe, who opened up the opposition defence and hooker-captain Sam Sturgess galloped over for the try, which Smith converted.
Four minutes later a Smith penalty took North Otago out to a 13-7 lead. But shortly afterwards, North Otago threw a poor pass and it was intercepted by Danny Kayes, who scored and Broughton converted, to take the visitor out to a 14-13 lead.
Five minutes into the second half Kingan had a kick charged down and Broughton won the race to score and convert, giving his side a 21-16 lead. But in the end some stirring work by the North Otago forwards and the boot of Smith prevailed.
In other results King Country beat East Coast 27-12, Buller beat Horowhenua-Kapiti 46-31, Mid Canterbury and South Canterbury fought to a 13-13 draw, Wairarapa-Bush beat Poverty Bay 36-31, and Wanganui got its first win of the season, defeating the previous table-topper West Coast 36-18.
- Terry O'Neill