THE Southland Stags put in one of their best performances in recent years when they beat Otago 32-15 at Rugby Park in Invercargill last Friday.
A big crowd turned out in perfect conditions to see Southland break a five-game losing streak. The Stags played to their potential in the four tries to two win over an Otago team which won its last seven matches.
Highlanders lock Manaaki Selby-Rickit made a difference in his return from injury for the Stags, while hard-running second five-eighth Ray Nu’u and No 8 Tony Lamborn were again in imposing form. Another key to the victory was the atmosphere the crowd provided.
Lamborn barged over after just 4 minutes when a lineout drive was perfectly executed. First five-eighth Scott Eade converted from out wide.
Otago first five-eighth Josh Ioane kicked a penalty goal, but his next long-range attempt hardly got off the ground.
Ioane briefly redeemed himself with a long pass to wing Freedom Vahaakolo, who beat three defenders to score in the corner.
Otago began to dominate as the Stags gave away multiple penalties; luckily Ioane was off target with his kicking.
After 25 minutes, Eade kicked a penalty goal to reclaim the lead, but in the minutes before half-time Eade was thrown some poor passes knocked on in the in-goal and from the resulting Otago scrum Sio Tomkinson scored a converted try to give Otago a 15-10 lead at half-time.
The Stags haven’t lacked determination or confidence this season, and came out fired up for the second half. In one of the first plays, Stags flanker Matt James picked up a loose pass from Ioane and sprinted 50 metres to score.
The Stags continued to build pressure and took the lead when Eade kicked a long-range penalty goal. With 15 minutes remaining, the Stags scored when halfback Liam Howley ran off the back of a strong scrum before putting a perfect pass to Tevita Latu who scored under the posts for Greg Dyer to convert.
As the Stags’ confidence grew, players threw the ball around, built pressure and replacement hooker Telemaitoga Tuapati scored a converted try.
The win has kept the Stags in with a chance of making the semi-finals of the Mitre 10 Championship. The Stags need to win in Pukekohe against Counties Manukau on Friday night, and also need Northland to lose its match against Waikato on Saturday.