Southland rebounded from a 10 point halftime deficit to overcome Bay of Plenty 20-16 and keep their semifinal hopes alive in Invercargill.
Winless after five games in the Mitre 10 Cup, Southland trailed 13-3 at halftime and were staring down the barrel of another loss until returning All Blacks star Elliot Dixon, veteran Jimmy Cowan and impact players Peni Ravai and Tim Boys helped to mastermind an impressive turnaround for the Stags.
The first half was all Bay of Plenty as two tries from lineout drives highlighted their set piece and territorial advantage in the first forty. Southland were lucky to not trail by more than 10 points as the visitors two kickers, Kelly Haimona and Dan Hollinshead, missed a number of shots at goal to keep the halftime scoreline at 13-3.
With their season on the line, Southland came out a different team in the second half as their scrum took control and ball recycling improved. Fiji international prop Peni Ravai spurred the Stags attack with a number of penetrative runs before Jimmy Cowan showed his class. The veteran half back chipped the ball into space to put second five James Schrader over for Southland’s first try.
The home side grew in confidence from the Schrader’s try and went over again soon after when Elliot Dixon dotted down from a pushover scrum close to the line to give the Stags the lead.
Hollinshead closed the gap to 17-16 with ten minutes to play before a crucial moment close to the Southland line. With the Stags hot on attack, Bay of Plenty replacement prop Solomona Sakilia was yellow carded for a dangerous tackle to gift Hawera an easy shot at goal. The Stags sharpshooter made no mistake as Southland extended the buffer to four points and Bay of Plenty were left to play out the remainder of the game with 14 players.
Replacement forwards Jason Rutledge and Tim Boys worked over time in the tight exchanges to help close out a well-deserved win for the home side.
The win puts Southland up to six points on the Championship ladder while Bay of Plenty have moved to clear fourth courtesy of their losing bonus point.
Next up for Southland is North Harbour on Sunday in a contest which will most likely put the loser out of the semifinal race. Bay of Plenty also have a short turnaround before facing Auckland at Eden Park on the same day.
Southland captain Brayden Mitchell said: “It’s awesome to put an 80 minute performance out there and to come away with the win I am just wrapped for the team. The front row held together well and the scrum has been the best it has been for a long time.”
SOUTHLAND – 20
Tries: James Schrader (48),Elliot Dixon (54)
Penalties: Wharenui Hawera (3,70)
Cons: Wharenui Hawera (49,56)
BAY OF PLENTY – 16
Tries: Aidan Ross (18),Joe Tupe (35)
Penalties: Kelly Haimona (1),Dan Hollinshead (60)