Southland end 50 years without Shield
Southland tackled their way into Ranfurly Shield rugby folklore with a 9-3 triumph over Canterbury tonight which ended 50 years of heartbreak.
The Log o' Wood will reside in Invercargill over summer, the first time it has been in the deep south since their one-match reign in 1959.
In a front of a baying group of supporters that made the match feel like a home fixture for Southland, the players lifted in the second half after being forced into defence mode through the first 40 minutes.
Having survived all season on gutsy defence, the southerners did it again, going into halftime at 3-3.
They had the better of the second spell, and would have been unlucky to lose as they repelled a series of late Canterbury raids.
The players leaped in a joyous team hug after first five-eighth Robbie Robinson kicked the ball out to end the game, in the knowledge they had lifted one of New Zealand rugby's most prized possessions.
Southland also guaranteed a place in next weekend's Air NZ Cup semifinals. Third coming into the match, they risked missing the playoffs if they lost to the competition leaders.
Canterbury were always guaranteed top qualification for the semifinals and lacked the vigour of the visitors, whose tactics of defending stoutly and relentlessly kicking for territory in damp conditions couldn't be cracked.
But it was the Shield that meant most to the team and their supporters, who grew in confidence as Robinson slotted three penalties, in the 35th, 47th and 71st minutes.
His three-from-three return contrasted with a none-from-two effort from opposite Stephen Brett, whose 17th-minute dropped goal was Canterbury's only points.
Shorn of eight All Blacks, Canterbury still managed to dominate early possession and territory.
However, despite averaging 30 points a game, they rarely threatened the tryline.
Canterbury's tenure lasted just three defences and captain George Whitelock cut a dismayed figure as he handed the Shield to Southland skipper Jamie Mackintosh, his team set to begin their sixth tenure as holders next season.
"I can't believe this, it hasn't really sunk in yet," Mackintosh told Sky Sport.
"There are people over in the crowd crying and what have you. I don't think we understand what we've done here but it's pretty special."
Mackintosh had no doubt about the key behind one of the great Shield heists.
"Coming into the game we had the best defence record in the competition," he said.
"I think that's because we're all good mates and help each other out... I think that was the winning of it."
Whitelock limped out of the match with injury in the 19th minute, and his young side failed to match the increasing fervour of a pack led by outstanding hooker Jason Rutledge, Mackintosh and lock Josh Beckhuis.
Stand-in Canterbury captain Tim Bateman paid credit to the victors' resilience.
"We didn't put the points on the board really, did we?" second five-eighth Bateman said.
"Southland defended outstandingly well, a lot of really good cover defence. We battered away at them for long periods of time but they held strong.
"Robbie Robinson kicked really well to the corners and put up some really good high balls."
Southland's sole current All Black Jimmy Cowan played the role of water boy and chief barracker, the halfback becoming increasingly animated as the minutes ticked by.
His team must come back to earth for a semifinal next week which could yet be against the same opponents at the same venue.
Southland 9 (Robbie Robinson 3 pen) Canterbury 3 (Stephen Brett drop goal). Halftime: 3-3.