A gutsy performance from flanker Tony Lamborn was the individual highlight in a 43-24 Mitre 10 Cup loss to Otago at Invercargill’s Rugby Park this afternoon.
Playing in his 50th national provincial championship game, Lamborn was courageous on attack and defence against the old foe.
Despite a strong second-half revival from the Stags, the Donald Stuart Memorial Trophy will return to Dunedin, with Otago taking a deserved win in the 243rd encounter between the two proud provinces.
The class of Highlanders midfielders Sio Tomkinson and Matt Faddes shone in the first hour of the game and it was their outsides who profited, with wingers Jona Nareki and Mitchell Scott scoring five tries between them.
After pushing Otago back into their own half in the opening exchanges, Southland found themselves on the wrong end of some classy finishing as the blue-and-golds ran in three tries in the space of six minutes to take the game away from the home team.
Down 19-nil the Stags looked to finish the first half strongly and were rewarded with a penalty to James Wilson, but then Nareki crossed to give Otago their bonus point try and a 24-3 advantage at the break.
When Scott crossed for his second five minutes after the resumption, things looked dire for Southland as they trailed 31-3, but the Stags then embarked on their best period of the game.
For the next 15 minutes they put Otago under pressure, found holes in the defence and gave the crowd something to cheer about in beautiful spring conditions.
Soon after Shaun Stodart went achingly close, Morgan Mitchell barrelled over for his second try in as many weeks.
Manaaki Selby-Rickit and Isaac Te Tamaki both scored second half tries for Southland as the Stags put some respectability back into the scoreboard for a 43-24 fulltime result.
Along with the hard-charging Lamborn, a quality buy from Northland this season, Wilson never shirked his role despite the punishing reception he got from Tomkinson and Te Tamaki looked to be the Stags’ most dangerous attacking threat.
Nico Costa should be pleased with his starting debut at halfback for Southland.
Recovery will be key for the Stags over the next couple of days, after what was a bruising southern derby and with only a short turnaround before Thursday’s game against Northland.
Otago 43 (Mitchell Scott 3, Matt Faddes, Jona Nareki 2, Jonah Aoina tries; Josh Ioane 4 con)
Southland 24 (Morgan Mitchell, Manaaki Selby-Rickit, Isaac Te Tamaki tries; James Wilso pen, 3 con)
Source: Rugby Southland