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Southland’s Ray Nu’u on the charge against Otago in Invercargill on Friday night.
Otago pivot Josh Ioane won’t be in a hurry to return to Invercargill anytime soon.
Because his error-riddled performance played a huge hand in Southland’s remarkable 32-15 upset on Friday night, their first home win against their neighbours in a decade.
The one-test All Black missed four shots at goal, including a sitter which would have tied the match at 18-18 after 62 minutes, and threw a costly intercept pass.
Southland flanker Matt James picked off his sloppy pass and returned it 52 metres to score, a play which swung momentum the way of the Stags shortly after the halftime break.
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They never looked back after Scott Eade kicked them into the lead after 51 minutes, ensuring Otago failed to wrap up the top-seed in the championship with a round to play.
Southland captain Tony Lamborn led the Stags with a monstrous performance, scoring a 5th minute try via a lineout drive, before earning a string of defensive penalties as Otago threw everything at them in the second half.
The Stags’ 81st win in 245 attempts in the rivalry keeps their playoff hopes alive, too, although you get the feeling they won’t top this win this season.
They’d scored just 10 tries in their eight previous games, by far the least in the competition, but rocked Otago with four to notch a bonus point.
Wing Tevita Latu’s 66th minute strike put them 25-15 up, before replacement Talemaitoga Tuapati iced the match with three minutes to play.
Otago should have had a healthier lead than the 15-10 one they held at the split, only Ioane had a bad case of the yips.
The Highlanders’ playmaker was shanking everything in the first 20 minutes, badly missing three shots at goal, including one penalty attempt which barely got off the deck.
Captain Michael Collins eventually gave up asking him to line up the sticks, instead backing him to find touch and setup a possible lineout drive.
But Ioane couldn’t even manage that, blasting his kick dead in-goal. He could only offer a sheepish smile as the vocal Southland crowd got stuck into him.
Otago were just fortunate Southland pivot Eade made a couple of dreadful mistakes in the waning minutes of the first half.
Because shortly after Eade kicked the hosts to a 10-8 lead, he twice dropped the ball in his in-goal to gift Otago 5m scrums.
The visitors twice bombed tries through poor passes, before Sio Tomkinson, playing his 50th match for the blue and golds, crashed over three minutes after the halftime hooter had sounded.
It seemed all too easy, unlike wing Freedom Vahaakolo’s 16th minute strike, when he skinned Eade and made three other Southland defenders miss on his way to the line.
Otago will have plenty to ponder on their late night bus trip back to Dunedin, including the fact Hawke’s Bay could leapfrog them at the top of the championship on Sunday afternoon.
Southland 32 (Tony Lamborn, Matt James, Tevita Lat, Talemaitoga Tuapati tries; Scott Eade con, 2 pen, Greg Dyer 2 con) Otago 15 (Freedom Vahaakolo, Sio Tomkinson tries; Josh Ioane pen, con). HT: 10-15
MVP points: Tony Lamborn 3, Matt James 2, Greg Pleasants-Tate 1