THE Southland Stags will play Hawkes Bay in the opening round of the Mitre 10 Cup at Rugby Park in Invercargill on Sunday at 4.35pm.
Southland played a pre-season match in Invercargill last Saturday against Otago. The Stags lost the game 45-43 but fans who tuned into the livestream of the match on Rugby Southland’s Facebook page, would have been encouraged by the determination and the flair the Stags showed.
The perfect playing conditions and an attacking mind-set enabled the Stags to score seven tries.
Otago got off to a flyer when its rush defence led to an intercept try to wing Taylor Haugh. After 20 minutes, Otago was up 19-nil.
Southland then settled down and hooker Greg Pleasants-Tate was able to barge over for a try.
Otago scored another intercept try, but two minutes before half-time the Southland backline produced some high-quality interplay between first five-eighth Scott Eade, fullback Josh Moorby and wing Kieran Lee, which resulted in Moorby scoring a converted try.
Southland was lucky to only be trailing 26-12 at half-time and when Otago scored another converted try after the resumption, Southland fans would have been nervous about how the last 30 minutes would play out.
The Stags got stuck in and played with confidence; Pleasants-Tate scored his second try before his replacement Tale Tuapati scored two converted tries from rolling mauls to help Southland level the score with 10 minutes to play.
Otago lost a man to the sin bin, but put together a good build-up to score a penalty try.
Otago’s defence was tiring despite bringing on all of their reserves including former Stags captain Jamie Mackintosh.
Southland wing Amanaki Nicole and Moorby scored tries in quick succession to put the Stags in front 43-40 with three minutes remaining.
Southland couldn’t hang on to the ball and Otago wing Taylor Haugh scored in the last play of the game.
The Stags forward pack impressed in all facets of play; the lineout, the rolling maul and the scrum all functioned well.
The front row of Pleasants-Tait, Siate Tokolahi and fellow Highlander Ethan de Groot were rock solid. Lock Mike McKee and Captain Tony Lamborn at No 8 were equally as good.
In the curtain-raiser match on Saturday, Town beat Country 57-25. Country had a good first half but ran out of steam. Marist’s impressive midfielder Tevita Latu set up a try right on half-time to put Town in front 19-18.
No 8 Nathan Vatasuli and wing Brad Kooman were the victors’ other standouts. Country locks Albert Quoro and Brenton Howden impressed, with Barbarians midfielder Angus Simmers best of their backs.