Win benefit of expanding competition

Southland forwards wait for the ball to be thrown to a lineout during their Mitre 10 Cup clash...
Southland forwards wait for the ball to be thrown to a lineout during their Mitre 10 Cup clash against Counties Manukau in Invercargill on Saturday. Photos: Getty Images
Southland believes expanding its club competition has reaped benefits.

The union's top side ended the worst losing record in provincial history with a convincing 42-14 over Counties-Manukau in Invercargill on Saturday.

That ended a run of 27 straight losses going back to 2016, although whether there is some debate over whether it is a record - more later.

Despite the woes of its top side, Southland managed to win the South Island development team competition.

Southland Rugby Football Union general manager Brian Hopley said yesterday there was a pretty good feeling after the win on Saturday.

"We've had reasonable crowds, who are a pretty loyal group and have kept supporting us. The team has been making progress and had a couple of close losses and we finally managed to get one," Hopley said.

"The team has been training really hard and it is good to see that all that work ended up with a win. The bounce of the ball went our way for once."

Hopley said the side had a bit of player depth and the union had been working hard with club coaches to get club teams performing well.

The Southland premier competition doubled in size this year, going from six teams to 12 teams for the opening round.

Although the top six teams after the first round were all from the premier club competition in the previous year, Hopley felt it exposed more players and teams to the higher level.

Southland won the South Island development tournament although its crunch game against Canterbury in Christchurch earlier this month was canned because of flight issues.

The development competition can be hard to judge as some unions use it purely to progress players while others put out a side of players in the Mitre 10 Cup squad but not playing that weekend.

But Southland did well to win it and it was a boost for the union.

Hopley believes Southland would have the highest percentage of players in its Mitre 10 Cup teams to have turned out in the union's club competition.

It was a long winless streak for Southland and, when it lost its penultimate game last year, it surpassed a record held by Northland in 2014-16.

But Northland actually lost 30 games in a row in the top division in 2003-06.

Those were the days when the top division had a promotion-relegation system and, for three years in a row in 2003-05, Northland won the promotion game - often by a big margin - to end its winless streak.

But the promotion-relegation match ended when the competition was restructured in 2006. If Northland had not played the promotion-relegation game, it would have lost 30 games in a row in that period.

Hopley said the union intended to talk to Southland coach Dave Hewett about his future when the season ended.

Hewett has been with the union for two years after a long stint with the Crusaders as an assistant coach.

Hopley thought Hewett had done a great job with the side and real progress was being made.

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