When Southland lost their first four games of the season it looked like there would be zero chance of the Stags going back up to the Premiership at the first attempt.
But with three successive wins they're in the hunt for a place in the Championship semifinals and their captain, Jamie Mackintosh, believes they're a side on the rise.
Today they play Canterbury in Christchurch, trying to repeat their pre-season win over Tabai Matson's side.
“The first two games for us were a bit of a licking; Counties taught us a lesson and then so did Wellington,” Mackintosh said.
“But we had a really big performance against Otago. We played well in the first half, got over the tryline four times and that was a game that was really tough, because we did enough to win but didn't . . . Then the same against Tasman, we played well enough to win the game again.” But then came Southland's wins over Hawke's Bay, North Harbour and Northland.
“For the young guys in the team, to get a few wins really lifts their confidence and belief in what we're doing.
“But with the nature of the competition and there only being seven teams in the Championship, four wins might put you into the semis.
“We have got Canterbury, Northland and Bay of Plenty to go and if we can notch up a couple more wins we'll be right up there and with the quality of players in our side we'll be competitive if we do get into the playoffs.”
But in the Championship playoffs, it may be one thing to make it, but it's another to avoid Counties Manukau in the semifinal.
“Definitely, I think they're playing a great brand of rugby,” Mackintosh said.
Canterbury v Southland: Christchurch, 2.35pm (SS1)
- Sunday Star Times
What have you made of the ITM Cup this season?