A determined effort on defence was the key to Southland Country's victory over their Metro counterparts in Balfour on Saturday, according to winning coach Jeff Clearwater.
Southland Country notched a 10-7 victory in a gritty display from both teams in their first clash in the South Island divisional rugby series.
Scoring didn't get underway until the dying minutes of the second half, after strong defence kept scoring opportunities to a minimum after kick off.
Country wing Rhys Lamont broke that deadlock to give the home side a 5-0 advantage at halftime.
Metro got points on the board in the early stages of the second half with a try to lock Bubba Lauese. Calvary Fonoti's conversion gave the visitors the lead, which they held until midway through the second stanza.
Country then worked a backline shift from halfway that saw halfback Blake Fairburn crash over and regain the lead for his side at 10-7.
Neither team could add to their tallies before the final whistle blew and the Balfour crowd erupted with cheers.
Winning coach Jeff Clearwater credited his players' work as a team on defence as the key to the victory.
"Our effort on defence was outstanding today. It was probably the difference [between the two sides]," he said.
The "link play of the inside backs" was another highlight of Country's performance. Second five-eighth Neil Warnock had a particularly strong game, Clearwater said.
Amongst the forwards, the Country scrum was pleasing, Clearwater said.
"Our scrum was good today too, there were times when we were almost pushing too hard on our own ball," he said.
Metro co-coach Mal Dermody was pleased with aspects of his sides play but said his team had "plenty to work on."
"We did alright considering we didn't have hardly any of the ball. We just didn't play as a team and Country did," he said.
Like Clearwater, Dermody was impressed with his team's defensive effort. "Our defence was superb considering all of the ball Country had," he said.
Offensively the team "didn't gel" but that improvement could be seen in upcoming games.
"We've got a decent season, we've got another five or six games and I'm sure we'll be back," he said.
- The Southland Times