David Hall to join Stags' 100 club
When David Hall ran out for his Southland debut at Rugby Park 11 years ago, it was a crossroads in his career.
The blindside flanker came off the bench and played hooker in a pre-season game against Marlborough, packing down in his first live scrum as a front rower.
More than a decade later he will play his 100th game for his province against Hawke's Bay at Rugby Park tonight, a game that marks a crossroads in Southland's season.
Win, and the Stags put themselves in contention for a home semifinal. Lose, and they put their fate in the hands of others.
Driving the Stags tonight will be a determination to celebrate Hall's achievement with the victory it deserves. The 33-year-old never thought he would get here, especially after being unwanted by Southland last year and opting to head to Northland for what he thought would be his final season of first-class rugby.
Instead, some strong club form and the season-ending injury to Jason Rutledge has given Hall the chance to join his good mate as a Southland centurion.
Having two hookers in the same era join the 100-game club was something special, Hall said.
"I've had to overcome a few things to get there, but it makes it all worthwhile. It's a pretty amazing feat and it probably shows how loyal we both are to the jersey," Hall said.
"I certainly had a few other offers to go and play other places, but barring Northland and those circumstances, I never felt I wanted to play anywhere else. I think with Cabbage [Rutledge] and me, it's brought the best out in both of us and we've both ended up playing Super Rugby and we both love pulling on the jersey."
Hall, who will be presented with his centurion's cap by former captain Clarke Dermody after tonight's game, could well have headed north and gained a more regular starting spot with another NPC team, perhaps even enhanced his Super Rugby chances beyond small roles with the Highlanders, Crusaders and Hurricanes, but it wasn't for him.
"I don't have any regrets at all. I love playing for Southland and I'm a true Southlander. I played for Northland and I enjoyed it, but I didn't love it like I did playing for Southland. I'll look back on my career knowing that I made moves for myself. If that affected me playing at a higher level, then so be it, I'll have made the right choice to stay with Southland."
If you look closely tonight as the man they call Crazy runs out on to the field, you might even notice something different to what is normally a very laid-back demeanour.
"I'm not the most emotional guy, to be honest, as most people know. There will probably be a bit of a tingle in my throat, because it is a massive achievement, but as soon as the whistle blows it will be just another game and we'll be into it."
Just another game, but one that is so important for Southland's season.
Who would have thought that after starting their campaign with three straight losses, the Stags could have played their way into a share of second place with Hawke's Bay on the championship ladder.
"We are at a crossroads," Hall said.
"We've worked our way back into a good position. We can choose to really step it up - home semis and a Ranfurly Shield challenge coming up if we want it, and, if we choose to not get up mentally for games, then we can go the other end and end up not making the semis and losing those last two games. Hopefully we can use my 100th as an occasion to get them up, and we've got the shield after that to get up for. If you aren't going to get up for those sorts of games, I don't know why you play the game, to be honest."
First-five Marty McKenzie passed a fitness test yesterday and will start tonight.
Nick Barrett has been ruled out by injury and replaced on the bench by Micheal Peterson, with Keanu Kahukura coming in for the injured Gareth Williams-Spiers.
ROLL OF HONOUR
1966 Ack Soper (103)
1967 Greig Spencer (107)
1976 Gerald Dermody (120)
1976 Lin Booth (100)
1980 Phil Butt (100)
1982 Leicester Rutledge (113)
1991 Paul Laidlaw (103)
1997 Brent Shepherd (105)
1998 Simon Culhane (103)
2010 Jason Rutledge (131)
2012 Jimmy Cowan (111)
2013 Jamie Mackintosh (100*)
2013 David Hall (100*)
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