THE Southland Stags fly north this week to take on Northland on Sunday afternoon.
Southland produced another gutsy 80 minutes of grinding rugby last Sunday, but was beaten 10-9 by Waikato in Invercargill.
The Stags kept their hardy supporters entertained in the wet and cold.
Southland had the better tactics, kicking early to gain territory, while Waikato struggled with ball handling in the slippery and windy conditions.
The Stags’ defence kept the pressure on, and forced Waikato into multiple errors.
Their lineout and scrums were dominant, but their attack didn’t gain much momentum. The Waikato defence proved to be as effective as the locals.
Stags first five-eighth Greg Dyer landed a penalty goal after 21 minutes – the only points in the first half.
Former All Black loose forward Liam Messam joined the game after 30 minutes and helped settle the inexperienced Waikato side.
Waikato took 40 minutes to realise its tactics needed to change; replacement first five-eighth Fletcher Smith knew the only way to victory was by kicking for territory. Smith proved to be the difference between the teams in the second half.
Dyer landed his second penalty goal in the 62nd minute, but soon after Fletcher Smith put in a wiper’s punt for his fullback Liam Coombes-Fabling to catch and score. Smith then landed the difficult conversion from the terrace side of the field.
In the 72nd minute, a penalty goal to replacement first five-eighth Scott Eade put the Stags back in front 9-7.
Smith then landed what turned out to be the winning dropped goal in the 75th minute.
In the final minute, the Stags hesitantly worked themselves into position for a dropped goal attempt of their own but Eade’s attempt just missed.
Waikato had the territory and possession advantage throughout the game but was still lucky and relieved to escape the roaring pen with a win.
Stags captain Tony Lamborn was the best for Southland power and work rate from openside flanker set a high standard for his team to emulate.
Greg Dyer and lock Manaaki Selby-Rickit showed their class at times.
It will be interesting to see this Southland team playing on a dry pitch on Sunday at 1.15pm against fellow championship team Northland.
The Stags have shown a willingness to play expansively when given the chance.