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In a gale-force norwester, Mid Canterbury registered its first win of the season and claimed the Hanan Shield by beating North Otago 7-3 on Saturday.
North Otago elected to play into the wind in the first half and produced some outstanding rugby, but it was bittersweet for coach Barry Matthews.
"It was probably the best we'd played all season but Mid Canterbury was desperate to win, as a loss would have seen their season gone," he said.
North Otago dominated territory for 90% of the first half but turned down what would normally have been simply penalty attempts because of the extreme wind.
The turning point came in the 25th minute when, from a scrum on its 22m, Mid Canterbury hoofed the ball downfield.
It stopped half a metre from the North Otago line and put winger Sale Pi'i under pressure. He was caught and, from the resulting ruck, Mid Canterbury first five Richie Catherwood drifted wide.
With North Otago's other winger, Sione Pangata'a, caught in the ruck, Mid Canterbury centre Salave Misi outflanked the cover to score. Fullback Andrew Letham converted with a superb kick from the sideline to give the home side a 7-0 halftime lead.
"In hindsight, we were probably unlucky not to score two or three times.
We were across the line but just couldn't get the ball down," Matthews said.
"I felt that if we had have scored then, we would have won. But instead we had to play catch-up rugby.
"Down 7-0 and with the wind behind you in the second half, you'd think we'd canter home, but it was harder to play with the wind than against it. It was so strong that we just couldn't move the ball wide."
Fourteen minutes from fulltime Tai Aholelei, a replacement for North Otago first five Hamish Buick, who was injured before halftime, kicked a penalty, but late in the game both Aholelei and Billy Guyton missed penalties.
The North Otago scrum was strong, with Elliott Booley starting at tighthead. Flankers Tony Lamborn and Jack Wolfreys maintained a high work-rate.
Eric Duff got excellent support from fellow lock Ian Cooney. Duff, playing his first full game, was agressive taking the ball up, but seemed inclined to stand off too many breakdowns when real physical effort was expected.
The pick of the backs was halfback Nick Webster, who has only just returned to the team.
"I thought Nick Webster was outstanding for us," Matthews said.
"He hadn't played for three or four weeks. He came out and played the full 80 minutes. He talked well and organised the defence well."
Centre Lemi Masoe was incisive at times, especially on the blindside, where Pangata'a also featured positively, while fullback Guyton was always ready to test the defence.
No 8 Pete McAndrew was a rock for Mid Canterbury, and he combined well with halfback Mac Sykes.
Up front, tighthead Simon Fleetwood relished the physical nature of the contest and openside flanker Nick McKain stood out on defence and attack.
Wanganui and Wairarapa-Bush are the only two unbeaten sides after three rounds of Heartland rugby.
By Terry O'Neil.
Mid Canterbury 7
Salave Misi try; Andrew Letham con
North Otago 3
Tai Aholelei pen
Halftime: Mid Canterbury 7-0.