Southland’s big off-season play to lure Highlanders first five-eighth Lima Sopoaga to the Stags has proved to be a masterstroke.
After Sopoaga kicked 19 points to help Southland to a 34-23 round one win over Bay of Plenty, the former Wellington player yet again starred tonight in the Stags’ second-round 25-21 victory over North Harbour in Auckland.
The 23-year-old was the difference between the two teams landing six penalties and a conversion to take his tally to 39 points in two games in the Southland jersey.
Rugby Southland are limited financially and opted to centre much of their off-season recruitment around just getting a player of Sopoaga’s class to run the show at first five-eighth and it is a formula that looks a smart one.
North Harbour out scored Southland two tries to one but it was the boot of Sopoaga that got the Stags home.
Southland did however look very shaky at the start of both halves.
North Harbour opened the scoring after just a minute through first five-eighth Matt McGahan.
Harbour lock Mike Farmer had charged down an attempted clearance from Stags halfback Scott Eade from the base of the ruck, turning over the ball.
The ball was quickly shifted wide and eventually McGahan scooted in for a well worked try.
Sopoaga responded with his first of six penalties with penalty kick from wide out in the fifth minute.
However, when North Harbour scored their second try inside the first 10 minutes of the game it looked ominous for the visitors.
Harbour kept attacking the left hand side of the field where their dangerous weapon in Tevita Li was camped and it paid off.
On On the back of some quick ball halfback Bryn Hall went blindside and setup to feed centre Nafi Tuitavake to score.
At 12-3 up after just 10 minutes it was one way traffic but Southland were able to get more possession and territory and mount some pressure.
In the 35th minute Eade looked to have scored but was deemed by the TMO to be held up. From the scrum hard-running second five-eighth Willis Halaholo crashed over but he too was deemed to be held up after it went to the TMO.
From the next scrum it was third time lucky as impressive Halaholo again got his hands on the ball to jink through the Harbour defence and score. The Sopoaga extras pushed Southland out to a 16-12 lead.
As was the case in the first Harbour made most of the play in the early stages of the second half and through a Matt McGahan penalty and Robbie Robinson dropped goal, the home side hit the lead at 18-16 five minutes into the second half.
But again as the half wore on Southland started to assert some dominance, in particular at scrum time.
It was a simple formula for Southland – find field position, draw a penalty, and Sopoaga kept the score board ticking over to lead Southland to victory.
Southland 25 (Willis Halaholo, tries; Lima Sopoaga 6 pen, 1 con)
North Harbour 21 (Matt McGahan, Nafi Tuitavake tries; McGahan 1 con, 2 pen, Robbie Robinson dropped goal).