Southland lose tight pre-season match to Otago
Southland have suffered their first first-class loss to Otago since 2008, going down 32-31 in Balclutha this afternoon.
The Stags were rocked by a committed Otago team which ran in five tries in sunny conditions to come back from a four-point deficit at halftime.
While the game was a first-class encounter, with Jimmy Cowan winning a 95th cap when he came off the bench in the second half, the Donald Stuart memorial trophy was not put up by Southland.
The Stags opened the scoring with a try to Josh Bekhuis after breaking through some weak Otago defence.
What looked like it would be an afternoon of one-way traffic quickly turned into the opposite, with Otago dominating the Stags at the breakdown.
That pressure eventually turned into points with big lock Rob Verbakel and elusive winger Buxton Popoali'i helping Otago out to a 15-5 lead.
Tries to Tim Cornforth and Mark Wells saw Southland regain the advantage at halftime with a 19-15 lead.
When Alex Ryan scored Southland's fourth try just after the break it appeared as if the game was well in hand.
The Stags started running their more experienced players off the bench with Cowan, Jason Rutledge and Matt Saunders all making an appearance, but it was Otago which finished stronger.
Nathan Hohaia, who started in the Southland midfield despite a back strain, lost the ball inside his own 22m and when Kade Poki tried to run it out from behind his own goal line, Otago struck with Scott Manson scoring, before Peter Breen crashed over for a 32-24 lead.
Campbell Smith grabbed a late try for Southland to get within a point, but that left the Stags having to rumble the ball 100m in injury time and they were unable to crack the Otago defence.
The result aside, there is concern over a foot injury to John Hardie which saw him hobble out of the game early.
The injury is a recurrence of the problem which ended his Super Rugby season and it will be assessed over the weekend.
Otago 32 (Rob Verbakel, Buxton Popoali'i, Jayden Spence, Scott Manson, Peter Breen tries; Hayden Parker pen, con, Breen con) Southland 31 (Josh Bekhuis, Tim Cornforth, Mark Wells, Alex Ryan, Campbell Smith tries; Marty McKenzie 3 con). HT: 15-19
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