Southland win see-sawing battle with BOP
Southland have resurrected their 2013 season just when it appeared as though it was over.
A 33-25 away win over Bay of Plenty last night has seen them leap from the bottom of the championship to third place – at least temporarily – but it was a game which featured two massive turnarounds and 20 unanswered points by the Stags.
Southland lead the game 13-6 after half an hour. By halftime Bay of Plenty were in front 19-13.
After an hour the home side were up 25-13 and then Southland struck back with two tries in as many minutes to Elliot Dixon and Marty McKenzie to lead 27-25 and Scott Eade then finished the Steamers off with the boot.
Stags coach David Henderson said his team showed a lot of determination to steal victory.
"We were sitting in the box at 25-13 thinking this was another one we were chucking away," Henderson said.
"There was a lot of heart there. We gave some guys some starts and they didn't let us down, and then we brought on guys who we've relied on all year. They got a shot in the arm during the week and they showed a lot of courage."
For much of the game it seemed a startling lack of ability to either stay within the rules – or adjust to the way they are being applied– would see the Stags slump to their fifth loss in six games.
The sight of a player in a maroon jersey pulling himself off the ground and throwing a quizzical look at the referee before trotting back into the line with a shake of his head was almost comical in its repetition.
They were playing an awful team destined for the drop this season in a Wednesday night game which was a very good advertisement for whatever else was on the box.
Willie Ripia is far too good a goalkicker to need practice in a real game, but Southland offered him plenty.
Things did not start well for Southland when John Hardie was harshly penalised at a ruck and Ripia landed the first of his four first-half penalties.
Soon after the Stags were denied a try when the final pass from Talemaitoga Tuapati to Hale T-Pole was ruled forward on a referral to the TMO.
It was an average call and effectively a 10-point turn around which was made worse when Ripia kicked his second penalty after quarter of an hour.
The movement was sparked by Southland fullback Robbie Robinson, who has had a quiet NPC campaign when judged against some of his Super Rugby form with the Chiefs, but finally found some counter-attacking flair.
The Stags put a mark on the game with Tuapati driving over and Eade converting to give Southland the lead for the first time in the game, but they then conspired to hand that lead back, and then some, before the break.
Dixon made up for a quiet game with a strong try off the back of a scrum stuck in reverse to give the Stags a chance with 15 minutes left as Southland came home strong with their bench players making an impact.
Bryan Milne looked good on the right wing before coming off in the first half with a hip injury.
Hale T-Pole was another tryer in his first real opportunity since he was Southland's best player against Northland, while Eade continues to look like Southland's best option at halfback.
Southland 33 (Talemaitoga Tuapati, Elliot Dixon, Marty McKenzie tries; Scott Eade 3 pen, 3 con) Bay of Plenty 25 (Kimami Sitauti try; Willie Ripia 6 pen, con) HT: 13-19