Southland Stags produce solid effort against Otago

Southland Stags lock Joel Everson tries to stop Otago's Vilimoni Koroi during their match at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin on Saturday. Photo: Linda Robertson

THE Southland Stags have their first home game of the NPC season against Bay of Plenty on Sunday.

A big crowd is expected at Invercargill’s Rugby Park after the Stags impressed in their season opener against Otago in Dunedin on Saturday. Otago scored a last-minute try to win the game 26-19.

The Stags had 11 players making their debut and it was pleasing to see their efforts were of equal standard to the high levels the team produced last season.

Southland’s scrum was solid and its defensive attitude was excellent. Holding on to possession proved difficult, but the team’s discipline and ball-control will no doubt improve as the players spend more time together.

Otago first-five Josh Ioane kicked the first three points, but his fortunes soon turned when his Highlander teammate Jonah Nareki (wing) was assisted off the field with a knee injury. Ioane was next to exit the game after a head knock. Despite the injuries, Otago scored a converted try out wide after 16 minutes.

Twenty minutes into the match, the Stags had their best moment of the game. With the backing of the large contingent of Southland fans, Southland halfback Lisati Milo-Harris received the ball at the front of the lineout and passed it back to hooker Greg Pleasants-Tate, who rampaged down the touchline and scored in the right corner.

The Stags’ new marquee signing, Marty Banks, slotted the conversion. The dependable first-five impressed at the venue where he was a Highlanders cult hero between 2015-2017 and also in 2019.

After 30 minutes, Stags’ lock Caleb Aperahama went off injured, Joe Robins replaced him and impressed with his work rate in defence and attack.

Just before half-time, the teams traded penalty goals. Southland captain Tony Lamborn came off the bench for the second half and soon made one of his trademark charges off the back of the scrum.

After 50 minutes, a Banks’ penalty goal locked the scores 13-all. Five minutes later, Lamborn got over the ball and won another penalty and the Banks’ goal put the Stags in front.

After further trading of penalty goals the scores were 19-19 with three minutes remaining. Unfortunately for Stags fans, Otago broke their tiring defence, and centre Freedom Vaha’akolo slipped through and scored the match-winning converted try.

The Southland camp was disappointed to lose the Donald Stuart Memorial Shield match but it was a gutsy performance from the team.

The injury to lock Caleb Aperahama (torn pectoral) has ruled him out for the rest of the season. Fellow lock Mike McKee is expected to return from a knee injury on Sunday, while outside back Josh Moorby could also return from a hand injury.

The Southland Stags kick off against Bay of Plenty at 2.05pm.

On Saturday, Southland Country will play Southland Town in Mossburn. Country earned an 18-10 win over Otago Country in Dunedin last weekend, while the Southland women’s team lost 17-10 to Otago Development.