Playing for each other reflected in defence

Mike McKee is one of the unsung heroes in a stout Southland forward pack which has helped shunt the team towards the playoffs.

The 27-year-old lock is in his sixth season with the Stags and there has not been a whole lot of success.

But the Stags have been much more competitive this season.

A win against Counties Manukau in Pukekohe tonight could see Southland secure a spot in the Championship playoffs.

The team will still have rely on Waikato beating Northland tomorrow.

But just to be in contention at this time of the season represents huge progress for the Stags.

The side snapped a 27-game losing streak with a 42-14 win against Counties Manukau last year.

But that game was in Invercargill and the Stags have not won an away Mitre 10 game in five years.

However, the team is fresh from arguably its best result this season — a 32-15 win against rival Otago — and is full of confidence.

"It has been tough over the last couple of years. We definitely have not got as many wins as a team would want but there has been a change this season," McKee said.

"There is an awesome feeling in the group. We are all playing for each other and that shows in our defence."

Southland has the second-best defensive record in the competition. It has conceded 168 points in nine games.

Only Auckland (164 points) has conceded fewer points. Had it not been for one blowout against Tasman, when the Stags ran out of energy late in the game, Southland would lead that statistic comfortably.

It is a source of pride and the Stags were able to generate attacking opportunities from their defence in the win against Otago.

McKee hails from Waikaia and is the fourth member of his family to play for Southland. His grandfather, Bill, uncle David and cousin Scott all pulled on the maroon jersey.

McKee boarded at Otago Boys’ and it was not until a growth spurt in year 11 that he grew into the body which confined him to the forward pack for the rest of his playing days.

He had been a utility back before that and retains some of those silky ball-handling skills backs like to think they have a mortgage on.

"I was like no way am I going to be a forward but I ended up having to," he said.

Counties Manukau boasts a big pack so McKee is expecting he will need to produce another busy shift.

He will partner Highlanders lock Manaaki Selby-Rickit in the second row.

Southland has a more than useful front row of Siate Tokolahi, Greg Pleasants-Tate and Ethan De Groot, and its lose forward trio, led by Tony Lamborn, has been as impressive as well.

It is out wide where Southland has laboured. It has not been able to capitalise on many of the opportunities it has created.

Plan A is probably to keep it tight and use its muscle up front.


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