Star hang on to claim Scruffy Butt trophy
The Scruffy Butt Memorial Trophy game tends to bring the best out of Star teams and Saturday's game was no exception.
In a replay of last year's Galbraith Shield final, Star overcame defending premier champions Woodlands 26-20 thanks to some solid rugby into the wind in the first half.
Star led 13-3 at the break through the boot of Tayler Adams and a well-taken try to fullback Glen Ballam.
Woodlands outscored Star three tries to one in the second half, but the home team had done enough through the first spell to bank an important first-up victory.
"I'm more than happy, I'm excited about that," Star coach Craig Pullar said after the game.
Pullar credited the influence of Highlanders flanker John Hardie at the breakdown and Star's defence for the win.
"The commitment - they wanted the Scruffy Butt, it means a lot to them."
Woodlands carry no small amount of extra pressure into the 2014 season.
They have won the past two Galbraith Shield finals and have added some quality players to their lineup during the summer, but it's been so long since they've won the shield contested between the two clubs that coach Damien Pine made a special trip across the park to remind himself what the trophy looks like.
"Everyone's been talking about how strong we look on paper, but that doesn't count for much if you aren't going to stick to a game plan," Pine said.
"It's a bit of a cliche, but you've got to earn the right to go forward and if you aren't engaging their forwards and getting a bit of a roll on you can't go forward. We let ourselves down with some silly mistakes in the first half, and again a bit in the second half."
Even more disappointing than the result was the loss of Woodlands first-five Calvary Fonoti to a serious knee injury in the first half.
The former New Zealand secondary schools and Samoa under-20s player was a late arrival for the Stags last year and was being trialled in the No 10 jersey, with Stags coach Brad Mooar watching on Saturday. Fonoti underwent surgery on his right knee yesterday.
"I really feel for him because I really felt it was going to be an exciting time for him," Pine said.
"He wants to put his hand up [as a first-five] because there appears to be a gap there for the Stags long term."
While there were two Rutledge brothers going head-to-head at hooker in the second half, and two McHugh brothers running around for Star, the game was notable for having three Bekhuis boys - Highlanders lock Josh, Jeremy and Jared - all on the park together for Star late in the second half.
It was the first time the three brothers had played together at any level.
Elsewhere, Pirates-Old Boys claimed a bonus point win over Blues at Balmoral Drive, winning 32-11 after jumping out to a 20-0 start.
Assistant coach David Hall quipped that he still had hair the last time the Eastern Suburbs side had started the season with a win.
It was the youngsters in the team who really impressed for Pirates-Old Boys, lock Dominique Collins and first-five Mike Molloy impressing in their premier club debuts.
"We flew out of the blocks with three tries and then took the foot off the gas," coach Matt Saunders said.
It was a disappointing start for new Blues coach Rodger Dawson, who had 10 players wearing the south Invercargill colours for the first time.
"We played 40 minutes of rugby without the ball, let Pirates-Old Boys get their tails up. We had some good periods in the second half when we did get the ball in hand."
Tighthead prop Morgan Mitchell helped lead a dominant Eastern Northern Barbarians scrum to seven tightheads in a 36-6 win over Midlands at the Gore Showgrounds.
Barbarians coach Bretton Taylor believes Mitchell is showing he's ready to step up to representative rugby.
"Morgan does things around the field that I've never seen a prop do and with his scrummaging, the time he's spent in Wales has obviously paid off. We've always known the potential of the man, it's just that transition from No 8 to prop."
Greg Saunders scored a brace of tries for the combined side in the bonus point win, while Dylan Winsloe and Sam Edwards were also impressive.
Marist coach Mark Tinnock had plenty of praise for division one team Riversdale, despite his team winning the crossover match 86-0.
Riversdale were competitive for significant patches of the game at Miller St and Tinnock believed the crossover format was worth persevering with if it helps to build depth in Southland rugby.
FINAL WHISTLE Star 26 (Glen Ballam, Afi Peteru tries; Tayler Adams 4 pen, 2 con), Woodlands 20 (Willis Halaholo, Alex Taylor, Sonny Rangitoheriri tries; Jamie Verran pen, con)
Barbarians 36 (Greg Saunders 2, Joe Stanton, Sam Edwards, Dylan Winsloe, Neil Warnock tries; Warnock 3 con), Midlands 6 (Blake Fairburn 2 pen)
Pirates-Old Boys 30 (Craig Stanway, Mike Molloy, Oscar Jenkins, Bryan Milne tries; Molloy 2 pen, 2 con), Blues 11 (Nathan Anderson try; Nicky Herbert 2 pen)
The Southland Times