Stags beat Waikato
A relieved Southland rugby team will look to kick on after recording their first win of the season against Waikato tonight.
The Stags came back from 9-nil down after half an hour to lead 10-9 at halftime and eventually win 20-6 in front of a 3600-strong crowd.
Southland coach David Henderson hoped the crossover victory against a premiership team would give the Stags some impetus.
"It gives you a bit of belief. It's hard turning up every week knowing that you aren't banking those points. We'll get to training on Monday still with a lot of work to do, but there's a bit more of a skip in the step when you turn up with a win."
The Stags spent most of the first half defending in their own territory, but their defence was able to push the Waikato team across the park and force them into mistakes.
While Trent Renata was able to land three straight penalty kicks, it was small reward for the dominance shown by the mooloo men, who spent so long camped in Southland territory they should have applied for resource consent.
The bright points for Southland, defence aside, was an attacking lineout which put plenty of heat on the throw of former Stag hooker Brayden Mitchell and the hard-charging midfield of starting débutante Willis Halaholo and Cardiff Vaega.
A charge down and a turnover by Marty McKenzie, who had struggled early on with a wayward kicking game, helped Cardiff Vaega to grab just Southland's second try of the season when he barged over from a ruck under the posts.
The Stags started the second half better and extended their one-point lead with Josh Bekhuis driving over for Southland's second try. From there normal service resumed.
Waikato swung back onto the attack for the remainder of the game, forcing the Stags to defend for their very existence.
Elliot Dixon produced some inspired cover defence, but the pressure eventually told and Tayler Adams was sent to the bin.
Down to 14 men the Stags were unable to keep out Semisi Masirewa, but they were able to survive the final 10 minutes, albeit with golden oldies scrums after Nick Barrett and Jamie Mackintosh left the field.
"We played in patches, but at times we looked pretty good," Henderson said.
"We broke them open a few times, but our final execution was letting us down. We scored a couple of tries and should have probably had another one down the touchline. I'm pretty happy overall."
There was too much pointless kicking from the Stags, and a worrying propensity to drop the ball at crucial moments, but Henderson said some of the preparation the team was doing was starting to pay off.
"We've been working hard on our [defence] and we've been working hard on our attack. I'm pretty proud of the boys, there was a bit of flu going through the team today and some of the boys were struggling a bit so it was a good effort to get them through."
Southland 20 (Cardiff Vaega, Josh Bekhuis tries; Marty McKenzie con, pen, Scott Eade con, pen)
Waikato 16 (Semisi Masirewa try; Trent Renata 3 pen, con)
The Southland Times