Tenacious Stags start well in cup campaign

Southland Players celebrate their win against Hawke’s Bay in a Mitre 10 Cup match at Rugby Park...
Southland Players celebrate their win against Hawke’s Bay in a Mitre 10 Cup match at Rugby Park Stadium in Invercargill yesterday. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
Southland has started its season with a gutsy 16-10 win against Hawke’s Bay in Invercargill yesterday.

The game was not much of a spectacle unless you like lineout drives; then you were in for a real treat.

Who wants to see wingers scoring in the corner when you can watch hookers tuck in at the boot of a lineout drive and have their mates tow them over.

But in damp conditions at Rugby Park it was the go-to tactic for both Southland and Hawke’s Bay.

Hawke’s Bay scored twice that way in the opening half. Hooker Ash Dixon had positioned himself perfectly to crash over.

But the visitors turned down a lot of kicks at goal and when they needed to score that way they could not.

Southland’s defence was disciplined and patient and ultimately proved the difference between the teams.

And right on the stroke of fulltime Southland shunted Hawke’s Bay off its ball from a 5m scrum. Its front row by that time included 42-year-old Jason Rutledge.

But it was the man he replaced who did most of the damage.

Southland trailed 10-6 at halftime. But shortly after the break hooker Greg Pleasants-Tate stole a page from Dixon’s playbook and tucked in for a try from a lineout drive.

He was in the action again soon. Lock Mike McKee got a charge-down and Pleasants-Tate barged over from close range to give the home side a 16-10 lead with 30 minutes remaining.

The Stags showed tremendous tenacity to close the game out.

It had opened its account with a couple of early penalties.

When Hawke’s Bay got an opportunity to go for the sticks, it opted to kick for touch instead and set up its potent lineout drive which had worked so well last season.

The Stags repelled the initial thrust and had an opportunity to clear but messed up the exit.

Hawke’s Bay swung on to attack again, turned down another handy shot at goal and that man Dixon drove over to score.

The experienced hooker nabbed seven tries last season and it took him about 20 minutes to get on the board in 2020.

Southland came within a few inches of scoring a little later. Centre Isaac Te Tamaki crashed on to the ball and got over the line. 

But he left the pill behind. His handling let him down but Southland was still in the right part of the field and building pressure.

The Stags tried their hand at driving over from a lineout but came up with a fumble.

It was costly. Hawke’s Bay got itself back up the paddock and Dixon got in the boot of another of those thrilling lineout drives to score his second just before the break.

In the other games, Canterbury beat North Harbour 43-29 in Auckland on Friday. On Saturday, Waikato beat Wellington 53-28 in Hamilton and Tasman defeat Counties Manukau 41-24 in Pukekohe.

Yesterday, Northland beat Manawatu 43-26 in Whangarei and Taranaki edged Bay of Plenty 36-29 in Inglewood.

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