Hard yards pay off in winning mode
Southland keep winning, but the job does not get any easier.
The Stags are still repaying the mortgage from their slow start to the season when they dropped their first three games.
Three consecutive wins have lifted them into second place on the championship ladder and a win over Hawke's Bay on Thursday night could secure them a home semifinal. Or they might head to Pukekohe a week later for a Ranfurly Shield challenge against Counties Manukau, needing a win to return to Rugby Park.
Regardless, there is time to reflect on another thrilling turnaround in which the Stags ran down their opposition in the closing stages.
Against Bay of Plenty they scored 20 unanswered points to claim a win which looked well beyond them.
The next outing they came back from 13-nil down and trailing 16-5 at halftime against North Harbour.
On Saturday they came out for the second half with a nine-point deficit. With quarter of an hour to go, the Stags trailed by six points, before tries to Scott Eade and Tayler Adams finished off an Otago team who flagged badly in the closing stages.
"We are still making too many errors and playing too much rugby in our 22m and it's costing us," Stags coach David Henderson said.
"The boys definitely show a lot of heart and they know the second half is important to us. We'll take that but it's not easy on the heart sitting up watching it in the box, that's for sure."
The Stags did struggle to efficiently clear the ball when in possession outside their 22m line.
The box kick appeared their best option but there is a worrying tendency for players to use short kicks in front of their posts.
Robbie Robinson's chip just before halftime was snapped up by Hayden Parker for a try which gave Otago a 20-11 lead at the break.
Southland have now scored 10 tries in two games after scoring only one in their first three.
"The forwards are setting a good platform and the backs have taken a while but they are starting to click and they are getting some confidence," Henderson said.
The Stags forward pack provided a strong base for their backs to run off.
They attacked the Otago lineout and ran hard with ball in hand.
Elliot Dixon outplayed his Highlanders rival, TJ Ioane, celebrating with an important second-half try after earlier being denied when a forward pass was detected in the leadup by the television match official.
Scott Eade was exceptional, first at halfback and then at first-five.
Marty McKenzie's ankle injury, sustained when he was taken out in the first half, is a concern looking ahead to Thursday.
Cardiff Vaega and Willis Halaholo continue to develop a potent midfield attack but their communication on defence also needs work.
Otago's greatest threat came in the form of Buxton Popoali'i, who scored in each half.
There was a nice moment to start the game with Southland captain Jamie Mackintosh getting a noisy welcome from Otago and Southland fans alike when he ran out first into Forsyth Barr Stadium in his 100th game for the Stags.
It was a moment he had deserved, but was not given, at the end of his time with the Highlanders.
Henderson purposely left Mackintosh out of the team's final talk before Saturday's game.
"I can't say enough about Jamie.
"He's inspirational, he's got a great rugby brain. I said to the boys before the game: these guys won't play with a better leader than Jamie Mackintosh in their lives. He didn't know I was talking to the boys because he wouldn't have wanted it to be about him."
- The Southland Times