Burdon: Support them all - they're Southlanders

SWITCHING ALLEGIANCES: Southland-raised hooker Brayden Mitchell (right) playing for Waikato against the Stags last season.
SWITCHING ALLEGIANCES: Southland-raised hooker Brayden Mitchell (right) playing for Waikato against the Stags last season.

Welcome to the future, Southland rugby fans.

A future where some of the most exciting talent this province has produced will be wearing a colour other than maroon when they takes the field, when some of the most famous surnames in Stags history are printed on the back of other unions' jumpers.

For instance, Marty McKenzie will be playing for Taranaki during this year's NPC, his little brother Damian could well get a trot for Waikato later in the year after he's done terrorising the opposition at the junior world championship.

If he does, he'll likely be playing alongside Brayden Mitchell, who's a head-scratching case in his own right.

Last year, Mitchell played some club rugby in Invercargill, was based in Dunedin, where he turned out for the Highlanders, and then headed to Hamilton to run out for the Mooloos.

It's a bit dizzying.

Nick Barrett has signed with Auckland, not that long ago David Hall had a season with Northland, along with another former team-mate, Hale T-Pole.

Kenny Lynn turned up in Tauranga for Bay of Plenty after a successful career with the Stags, and Daniel Ramsay had turns with Wellington and Otago.

These are just a few examples, and, of course, it's not a new phenomenon.

Justin Marshall, Corey Flynn, Mils Muliaina and Jeff Wilson all forged All Black careers after leaving the province, but in those cases it was more a case of the best of the best looking for greater opportunities.

Now it feels like any player coming through the age groups is fair game and Rugby Southland has to be the ever-vigilant shepherd if it's going to ensure that the flock isn't being nagged at by wolves in the night.

A touch dramatic?

Southland has been blessed to have, in the recent past, a generation of very good rugby players.

Locally grown, locally developed and loyal. To a point. Once so much had been invested in building those young men up, it only made sense to invest heavily in keeping them here. The rewards were spectacular but the eventual fallout was too.

In this more fiscally restrained landscape, we have to get used to the fact that not every very good rugby player in Southland will put having an 'S' on his chest on his list of priorities.

The notion of Super Rugby franchise contracting also puts a strain on provincial loyalty.

On the one hand, a player now has five franchises to choose from, or be chosen by, within New Zealand without having to leave their province.

On the other, they may get a taste of the grass on the other side of the fence, and like it.

All Rugby Southland can do, and this is already happening, in my opinion, is create the best environment it can, one where players can see themselves succeeding.

It's not necessarily about money, and there will be things - a university education, for instance - that we can't compete with.

And while we should remain as proud as we ever have of those such as Jimmy Cowan, Clarke Dermody and Jamie Mackintosh, who get to the very top from Southland, I'd like to see Southlanders keep a special place in their heart for those whose ambitions push them northwards.

If there's a party in Tonga when Malakai Fekitoa gets selected for the All Blacks, then surely we can celebrate when one of our own is successful, regardless of the shirt they are wearing?

The Southland Times