When two southern tribes go to war in derby

Last updated 05:00 30/08/2014
Southland Stags
ROBYN EDIE/Fairfax NZ

STAGTASTIC: Southland players celebrate their 38-32 victory over Otago at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin last year.

WELL VERSED: Paul Macfie has played for both Southland and Otago.
The Daily News
WELL VERSED: Paul Macfie has played for both Southland and Otago.

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Another chapter will be added to the Southland-Otago rugby story at Rugby Park in Invercargill today, a rivalry that stretches back to 1887. LOGAN SAVORY turns the clock back 30 years and recalls a player and a particular game that hold a special place in the great New Zealand sports derby.

Paul Macfie knows a thing or two about one of New Zealand's most fierce sporting rivalries: Southland versus Otago.

As a player, the first five-eighth lined up for both sides - first for Otago in the late 1970s and then for Southland in the 1980s.

To add to that, as a referee he also officiated in a Southland-Otago game - a fixture that finished in an 8-8 draw - fitting, given Macfie says he has a foot in both camps.

He has seen the rivalry from all angles and suggests there is something special about the southern derby that makes it stand out from other provincial games.

It is a contest that stretches right back to 1887, when Southland played their first representative game - a 6-0 loss to Otago.

Since then, 236 games have been played between the two provinces, the most in any provincial rugby rivalry in New Zealand.

The long-time battle has meant the Donald Stuart Memorial Trophy, contested between Southland and Otago, is hot property. Even more so in recent times in Southland as the prize has spent more time in the province than it did in the 1980s and 1990s.

Macfie - who is now the general manager, livestock, for ANZCO Foods Ltd, based just out of Ashburton - recalls Southland's 1984 victory over Otago in Invercargill as a special occasion during his career.

Otago were a first division side and travelled to Invercargill to take on then-second division Southland.

Southland had not beaten Otago since 1979. The 1984 Southland team was also facing life after players such as Leicester Rutledge, Brian McKechnie and Steven Pokere, who had all moved on after the 1983 season.

Few gave them any hope to change that in 1984.

It was all stacked against Southland but the team captained by Macfie defied the odds and won 6-3 to add one of the more memorable chapters in the Southland-Otago rugby story.

As a game it wasn't one for the ages, but the result breathed some life into the rivalry for a brief moment during that era.

The 1984 Southland victory was the first in five years against Otago, and it took until 1997 before the union found its next against the neighbours.

For that brief moment on July 7, 1984, Southland rugby found peace during a difficult period against Otago.

''It had been a long time for Southland and we had been in a bit of awe of them, I guess,'' Macfie recalls. ''They had such a great record and they were first division. They had a lot of experienced players in the team.

''If the TAB was in existence with sports betting at the time they would have had us at very long odds.

''6-3 was the score and it was a big buzz because Southland hadn't won for a long time.

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''We were a young team so there was some youthful enthusiasm there, and it gave us a lot of confidence. We went on to be unbeaten in the [second division] competition that year and went up to first division.''

Macfie said the Southland-Otago fixture was a date most players eagerly looked forward to.

''You certainly knew when you played Otago that it was going to be one hell of a battle.''

Soon after Macfie stopped playing he entered the refereeing ranks, eventually going on to hold the whistle in 60-odd first-class fixtures.

Given his first-hand knowledge of the intense rivalry, he had one eye on the 1993 clash, which was the 200th game between the two teams.

''I thought at one stage I'd get that game. I remember being really disappointed I didn't get it. It would have been a big ask though, it would have been my first rep game.

"I thought, 'I'd played for both sides, I'd love to referee that game'. Peter TeTai got the game though, and did a great job.''

- The Southland Times

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