Southland took another important step towards securing a spot in the New Zealand Cup quarter-finals when they held out 20-17 to Taranaki in Invercargill.
The defence was Southland’s most impressive feature, as they resisted wave after wave of Taranaki assault at the death. On attack, they scored two tries both through winger Watisoni Lotawa.
The visitors did manage two tries of their own, their first coming in reply to Lotawas initial score. Taranaki drove well from the line-out and prop Census Johnson scored from short range off a subsequent phase.
But Southland regained the lead just before the half, with Lotawa gathering a cross kick from team-mate Blair Stewart to give the home side another five points, which Stewart then turned into a goal with a superb touchline conversion.
But in the second half the intensity began to take its toll. Opposing loose forwards Hale T-Pole (Southland) and Jarrad Hoeata (Taranaki) were sin-binned by referee Gary Wise for exchanging punches, and the Stags also lost hooker David Hall sixteen minutes from the end when he was chastised for a professional foul.
Taranaki made the home side pay for the transgression almost immediately, with replacement flanker Scott Waldrom scoring a try against the upright. The easy conversion was made and the scores drawn level at 17-17.
But Stewart held his nerve to nail his second penalty of the half and edge Southland ahead. From there on it was all down to the brave defence from the home side, who managed to repel a last minute attack successfully and secure their third successive win in Invercargill.
Southland: Tries: Watisoni Lotawa (2); Conversions: Blair Stewart (2); Penalties: Stewart (2).
Taranaki: Tries: Census Johnson, Scott Waldrom; Conversions: Miah Nikora, Morath; Penalty: Nikora.