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Mid Canterbury leads the Lochore Cup race after its 28-7 win over a lacklustre North Otago at the Ashburton Showgrounds on Saturday.
North Otago will now need to beat East Coast in Oamaru in the final round of the Heartland Championship this weekend to sneak into the playoffs.
The Old Golds are eighth, in the final Lochore Cup spot, but are only a point ahead of Wanganui.
On Saturday, they could not reproduce their form of the previous week against South Canterbury. There were too many missed tackles, little cohesion and little signs of an organised structure when in possessionNorth Otago coach Mike Mullins was disappointed with the overall performance.
''We didn't have any attack structure, which we'd worked on all week,' he said.
''It appeared that players were waiting for someone else to do something but in games you need everyone working together, not just as individuals. When a break is made we need everyone in behind in support.
''We just didn't tackle or tackled too high or simply dropped off tackles and Mid Canterbury built up momentum and territory and, as a result, they scored points.''
North Otago held its own in the scrums and won its ball at the lineouts, but Robbie Smith was sluggish behind the pack and often the midfield was cannon fodder for an abrasive Mid Canterbury defence.
Mid Canterbury dominated the breakdown, mainly through the play of scavenging openside flanker Gary Redmond.
Josh Clark again led by example for North Otago but he had too few followers, while big ball carriers Sale Pi'i and Samisoni Tongotongo were subdued by the aggressive defence.
First five-eighth Ben Palmer was the pick of the North Otago backs. On three occasions, he ripped apart the Mid Canterbury defence but lack of support meant his efforts come to nought.
Mid Canterbury first five-eighth Murray Williams always had the North Otago defence on edge, either taking the ball to the line or distributing accurately.
Winger Brenton O'Connell gained valuable metres against a tackle-shy defence, fullback Richard Catherwood was always prepared to enter the backline, and centre Peni Manumanuniliwa was able to beat the first tackler with his slick footwork.
Mid Canterbury took the lead after just two minutes when O'Connell ran the ball back from inside his own 22m and, from the third phase, Catherwood scored the first try.
Midway through the half, Connell and Catherwood combined to outflank the North Otago defence and create a try for flanker Tevita Ula, and a couple of Williams penalties gave Mid Canterbury an 18-0 lead at halftime.
North Otago's only scoring came when Stephen Fenemor chipped ahead, setting up play in the opposition 22m, and young replacement winger Siosiua Ngalo scored out wide.
Mid Canterbury had the final say when replacement flanker Logan Bonnington finished off a Williams break.
Mid Canterbury (22 points) moved into fifth place behind Buller (37), South Canterbury (26), Poverty Bay (25) and Horowhenua-Kapiti (24).
Buller continued its unbeaten run with a 29-24 win over West Coast, Horowhenua-Kapiti beat South Canterbury 23-11, and Poverty Bay beat Thames Valley 17-9.
Mid Canterbury has an outside chance of making the Meads Cup playoffs when it plays South Canterbury this weekend.
By Terry O'Neill.
Mid Canterbury 28
Richard Catherwood, Tevita Ula, Logan Bonnington tries; Murray Williams 2 con, 3 pen
North Otago 7
Siosiua Ngalo try; Ben Palmer con
Halftime: Mid Canterbury 18-0.