An awesome scrum, superb finishing by winger Robin Fesilafai and freakish luck with the weather were major components at Alexandra at the weekend in the Southern Region’s first Topp Cup victory over Central Otago since 2016.
Southern, which won 12-5, led 12-0 at halftime after having first use of a near gale-force wind, which gusted to 60kmh at times, making a mockery of lineout throwing and challenging both teams tactically.
Unbelievably, while the teams were plotting their second-half tactics during the interval, the wind dropped away to a mere zephyr.
The wind freshened again during the final quarter, but by then the Southern scrum was so utterly dominant it would not have mattered what the conditions were.
With about a dozen minutes remaining, and still trailing 12-0, Central fed to two scrums directly in front of the Southern goalposts.
Southern stole a tighthead the first time and the Central scrum was penalised at the replay.
In the finish, Central completely abandoned scrums, opting for taps or lineouts, which ultimately produced the team’s only try, well claimed by replacement forward Eamon O’Brien from a lineout drive.
Southern coach Craig Stanaway nominated the West Taieri trio of prop Ethan Hippolite and locks Steve Green and Ben Davidson as the special heroes of his team’s success.
“In those challenging conditions, we knew there wouldn’t be a lot of scoring opportunities so it was important to control the set pieces, which our guys did wonderfully well, particularly in the scrums,” he said.
Others who contributed mightily to Southern’s win were halfback and captain Jared Edwards, of Clutha Valley, whose intercept set up Fesilafai’s first try, powerful Heriot No8 Nick Hayes and strong-running West Taieri centre Will Scorgie.
Central played intelligently for most of the opening 40 minutes into the gale and, being only 7-0 down with halftime approaching, it was sweetly placed.
But that was when the effectiveness of Southern’s scrum first became obvious.
A huge heave earned it a penalty out from the goalposts.
Instead of settling for an obvious three points, it tapped, attacked right and Scorgie put Fesilafai across for his second five-pointer.
A cluster of Wakatipu players were among Central’s best flanker Dave Fraser, hooker Jake McEwan and replacement forwards Eamon O’Brien, who snared the only try, and Rube Peina, along with Arrowtown fullback Blair Foster.
Central, which competed well in the lineouts and at breakdowns, declined to take three points in the fourth minute of the game after winning a penalty in front of the posts.
It opted for a tap and promptly lost possession.
How valuable those three points could have been.