Stags definitely provided the highlight

NATHAN BURDON
Last updated 05:00 31/12/2013

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OPINION: Maybe it's because I have watched a lot of rugby under the roof at Dunedin Stadium since it opened for the 2011 World Cup, and most of that time I've been covering the losing team.

Maybe it's because writing about the Stags is always a roller-coaster, and you take your joy where you can find it.

Maybe it's simply the fact that it always feels good to beat Otago. At anything.

That's why my Southland sporting moment of the year has to be the Stags' 38-32 win over the blue-and-golds in Dunedin in September.

I've seen some great local performances this year - Southland's breakthrough showing at the national sevens finals in Queenstown, the way Jhaniele Fowler tore the trans-Tasman netball league to bits in her debut season and a whole lot of fistpumps in the lounge as the Sharks rolled their way to the national basketball league title in Napier.

But that afternoon against Otago stands out.

Part of it was the way Southland had been touched up by Otago when the two teams met in a pre-season game in Gore.

We had gotten a little used to the Stags having their way against Otago teams, a rare period of sunshine in what is an enduring rugby rivalry.

Southland hadn't held the Donald Stuart Memorial Trophy since 2011, however, and that big loss in Gore suggested the drought would continue.

After consecutive wins over Bay of Plenty and North Harbour, it was a more confident Southland team which headed to Dunedin.

The Stags weren't quite so confident at halftime when they trailed 20-11, but a standout performance by Scott Eade, first at halfback and then in the No 10 jersey after an injury to Marty McKenzie, helped to turn the tide and ensure that skipper Jamie Mackintosh would be able to celebrate his 100th appearance for Southland in style.

Eade scored a try, set up another and kicked a penalty from his own side of halfway.

Let's not forget Otago's part in this.

They played with the sort of determination they have become renowned for the past two seasons under Tony Brown, making up for a lack of class with no small amount of grit.

It was, regardless of the result, just a great game of footy, during a time when we get so much of the stuff thrown at us that it's no suprise that the public are becoming a little battle weary.

The NPC retains a special place in the provinces and despite the diminished nature of the competition, the passion which surrounds "Stag Day" - as the annual clash between Southland and Otago has become known - is a great example of that.

While it would be silly to make comparisons with the singing and crowd participation which we see in the English Premier League, the atmosphere under the roof this year was something special.

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The sea of maroon and gold, the antlers, the mullets - it was tribalism at its fearsome best and the team responded.

It wasn't a great season for the Stags in 2013, but for one afternoon, at least, they were part of something great.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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