THE Southland Stags will take some confidence going into the round two match of the Mitre 10 Cup against Bay Of Plenty in Rotorua on Saturday.
In the opening game of the season, Southland hung on for a tough 16-10 win over Hawke’s Bay on a wet and miserable Sunday afternoon at Rugby Park Stadium in Invercargill.
The result and the team’s attitude would have pleased Stags’ supporters, new captain Tony Lamborn and new coach Dale MacLeod.
The team earned one win last year and had worse results in the previous two years.
On Sunday, the Stags’ defence was reminiscent of the commitment shown during the province’s Ranfurly Shield defences in 2010.
Hawke’s Bay started the game better but unsuccessfully tried to move the ball through its backs in the slippery conditions.
The Magpies captain and Highlanders hooker, Ash Dixon, then took control of the game and scored two tries off lineout drives.
Southland first five-eighth Scott Eade was a calm and accurate leader for the locals; his ball-handling and punting was excellent penalty goals, to reduce the margin to 10-6 at half-time.
Southland hooker Greg Pleasants-Tate scored five minutes after the re-start; barging over for his second try soon after.
In the second half, the Bay turned down shots at goal and aimed to earn maximum points from its lineout drives but its accuracy at those lineouts was lacking.
Hawke’s Bay had plenty of attacking chances and, in the last play of the game, looked well placed to steal the match with a scrum feed five metres out from the goal posts. But the Stags’ scrum pushed the opposition off the ball, secured the loose ball and punted it over the dead-ball line.
Lock Mike McKee made one of the game’s biggest plays when he charged down an attempted clearing kick from All Black halfback Brad Weber to set up Southland’s second try.
Fellow lock Manaaki Selby-Rickit, No 8 Tony Lamborn and Pleasants-Tate all played well. Ash Dixon was the best of the visitors.
Reserve hooker Jason Rutledge made his 140th appearance for Southland, 20 years after making his debut. At age 42, Rutledge is the oldest player to play for Southland.
Bay Of Plenty (BOP) would provide a harder challenge for Southland on Saturday night.
All Black captain Sam Cane played No 8 for BOP last weekend when it was narrowly beaten 36-29 by Taranaki. First five-eighth Otere Black is the other big name for the Steamers.
Southland 16 (Greg Pleasants-Tate 2 tries; Scott Eade 2 pen), Hawke’s Bay 10 (Ash Dixon 2 tries).