Southland have won their first NPC game for almost a year, defeating Northland 37-33 at Rugby Park in Invercargill on Saturday.
The last time the Stags won a game was when they defeated Otago 32-15 at home on November 5, 2020.
However, recently they’ve been showing signs that they’re an improving team and demonstrated that in style with an impressive win over the team from the other end of country.
These have been the weakest two provinces in the NPC this year and it highlights how impacted this year’s competition has been by Covid that only one Championship team won’t make the semifinals.
* Key Southland Stags players cleared for all-important Northland clash
* NPC schedule tweak, Southland-Northland clash brought forward a day
* NPC wrap: Rene Ranger-inspired Northland further illustrate split-division sham
The result means Northland have 10 competition points, thanks to a late bonus point picked up, and Southland have nine. Southland have a tough game against Taranaki next weekend, while Northland have a midweek fixture against Bay of Plenty, so it sets up a tense final week.
If both teams finish on the same amount of points, Southland would go through to the semis, because of the head-to-head rule.
It was a game where Northland’s tight forwards were able to get dominance at the breakdown and this resulted in penalties being conceded by Southland.
But the ascendancy Northland had up front was often negated by the Southland backs, who continually ran nice lines through the opposition’s defence.
Northland’s Dan Hawkins got the scoring underway from a penalty in the third minute and almost straight after winger Pisi Leilua raced away with an intercept try.
The Stags’ Marty Banks made it an 8-3 game with a penalty in the 14th minute, but just before the midway point in the opening stanza Leilua made a superb break down the right flank, after initially shoving off Marty McKenzie.
The attack was finished by Hawkins, who then converted his handiwork to but Northland up 15-3.
But after a second Banks penalty Southland halfback Josh Renton weaved his way through the Northland defence and then gifted his winger Josh Moorby one of the easiest tries he’ll score in his career.
In the 30th minute Southland hit the front for the first time, with the ball moved from a ruck on the right, quickly to the left wing, where Solomon Alaimalo finished it off.
Matt James grounded the ball over the line in the 48th minute as the Stags drove forward from a lineout.
The Northland coaches introduced their Blues star Tom Robinson into the game nine minutes into the second half, but it was a Southland substitute who made a bigger impact, with hooker Greg Pleasants-Tate grinding his way over for the Stags’ fourth try.
Northland Rene Ranger stalwart gave his team some hope with a try, but down 37-28 with 15 minutes to play a win still seemed remote.
However, while Southland held on to the win Jone Macilai-Tori scored a last gasp try for Northland to pick up a crucial bonus point.
AT A GLANCE
Southland 37 (Josh Moorby, Solomon Alaimalo, Matt James, Greg Pleasants-Tate tries; Marty Banks 3 pens, 4 cons). Northland 33 (Pisi Leilua, Dan Hawkins, Rene Ranger, Jone Macilai-Tori tries; Dan Hawkins 3 pens, 2 cons). HT: 23-15