The hour of truth is fast approaching for division two's best as Marist and Collegiate prepare to lock horns in a top of the table clash at Lindisfarne in Invercargill on Saturday.
The city teams are unbeaten in six round robin games to date.
Rugby Southland referee education officer Kirk Rae said top of the table clashes invariably created considerable interest.
"It will be a crunch game for sure as is always the case when the heavyweights clash," he said.
Another wag reckoned that if the gunfight at OK Corral brought the people to town at sunrise, then Saturday's intriguing game would have the same drawing power at 3pm when Wellington referee Vinny Wylie signalled the kickoff.
Wylie is one of three division two referees from other provinces to be involved in an annual exchange with Southland on Saturday. Others will officiate in various other local grades and competitions.
Canterbury's Mark Hanson will control the Midlands-Central Star division two encounter at Winton and Richard Mitchell, of Otago, will referee the Pirates Old Boys-Albion Excelsior clash at Surrey Park.
Important games and playoffs are seldom pretty, winning being the name of the game. This confrontation might go down to the wire, the spoils going to the team that wants it most.
Regan Johns, player-coach of Pirates Old Boys, one of three teams to have tasted the clout of both leaders, said he would lean fractionally Marist's way.
"There's a lot of experience and ringcraft in those wily Marist loosies Iona Sipa and Dion Bates and, based on our playing experience against both teams, I think the big tight men from both sides will cancel each other out."
Some predict close family bonds forged by Collegiate's bands of brothers in the Kite and McIntosh mould will win through when the going gets toughest. Those families will each provide three for Collegiate's starting cause, or 40 per cent, on Saturday.
Midlands coach Steve Unahi, whose team has also bowed to Collegiate and Marist, said he would go marginally for Marist, because of the presence of their vastly experienced loose forward aces Bates and Sipa.
"They follow each other around the paddock and know how to effectively offload which will be difficult for Collegiate to counter," Unahi explained.
"But the Collegiate home ground advantage and the combinations of those Kite and McIntosh brothers is certainly interesting . . . I'm picking the game will be tough, tight and low-scoring."
Collegiate manager David McIntosh said his team had "wholesome respect" for Marist.
"We get along well with them [Marist]. While it's a big game, the competition will be won later and not all teams might have laid their cards on the table yet."
In other division two action, the Woodlands (hosts) and third-placed Riverton clash has been brought forward to tomorrow, under lights at 7pm.
Riverton is a clear third on the points table with five wins from six starts and should dominate Woodlands.
Young and improving Western Southland teams Waiau Star and Wrights Bush come together at Tuatapere Domain.
Waiau Star coach Jerry Adams was justified in pointing to his team gaining in confidence after downing Woodlands 24-12 last week while Wrights Bush was more competitive than its 22-3 defeat by Central Star suggests.
- The Southland Times