Southland Stags desperate for first win

RUNNING HARD: John Hardie is taken in the tackle.
RUNNING HARD: John Hardie is taken in the tackle.

Poll: Southland's last win over Waikato was a gritty 7-6 victory three years ago and the Stags will need similar determination to earn their first win of the season when they take on the mooloo men tonight.

The Stags narrow victory in 2010, by a team living high on Ranfurly Shield glory, was the first by a Southland team in Hamilton and was highlighted a gravity-defying tackle by Jason Rutledge on Aled de Malmanche.

Stags flanker John Hardie, who will play his 50th game for Southland tonight, said there were elements that could be taken from that win.

"I remember it was a bit of a greasy night and we had a big, big effort on [defence] that day. I think we'll need the same sort of effort on D, but also on attack," he said.

The 25-year-old made his debut for Southland off the bench in a non-championship game against Otago in Invercargill at the start of the 2007 season.

At 18 Hardie had to be granted a dispensation to play for Southland and was granted 100 minutes by the NZRU, but the issue became moot when Hardie was ruled out for the rest of the year with a broken thumb.

Since then he's developed into a key cog in the Southland and Highlanders forward packs and tonight will mark a proud moment for the Hardie family, including John's father Russell, who played 47 games for Southland in the first half of the 1970s.

"Mum and Dad, all my brothers and sisters, they all follow my rugby and they come to every game possible, it's massive for them as well. It's good to get past the old man, it's one over him."

Hardie said playing in two Shield tenures and appearing in two semifinals were the highlights of his Stags career to date.

The 2011 Shield win over Canterbury stood out.

"I think that was a bit more of an open game than [2009], I thought we dominated Canterbury, which is pretty hard to do. We'd been written off after a couple of losses and it was just a great time when we needed a win and it was really important for our season," he said.

"I love my rugby down here and I've loved every game I've played. There have been some great moments with the Ranfurly Shield."

It's been the same tune being sung in the Southland camp in the lead up to tonight's game against Waikato.

The Stags believe they are doing enough to win games, but aren't finishing off.

Hardie believes much of that comes down to confidence and he wants the see the Stags start the game as though they've won the last three matches, rather than lost them.

"We are playing some good footy, but once we get into the 22m we aren't executing well. It's about getting in there and playing like we've won a few games."

Southland v Waikato, Rugby Park Stadium, 6pm tonight.

Southland: Robbie Robinson, Bryan Milne, Cardiff Vaega, Willis Halaholo, Tim Cornforth, Marty McKenzie, Tayler Adams, Elliot Dixon, Tim Boys, John Hardie, Michael Fatialofa, Josh Bekhuis, Nick Barrett, David Hall, Jamie Mackintosh (captain). Reserves; Talemaitoga Tuapati, Tuki Raimona, Hale T-Pole, Naulia Dawai, Nemia Kenatale, Gareth Williams-Spiers, Scott Eade.

Waikato: Trent Renata, Tim Mikkelson, Jackson Willison (captain), Joe Perawiti, Save Tokula, Wharenui Hawera, Brad Weber/Kylem O'Donnell, Adam Burn, Jack Lam, Rory Grice, Sam Kilgour, Brian Alainu'uese, Ben Tameifuna, Brayden Mitchell, Toby Smith. Reserves; Vance Elliott, Paul Alo-Emile, Nick Ross, Jono Armstrong, Weber/O'Donnell, Sam Christie, Semisi Masirewa.

Referee: Matt O'Brien. Assistant referees: Kirk Rae and Andrew Rowland. TMO: Peter Wilkinson.

The Southland Times