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Stags up for the challenge

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010    Sportal.co.nz    Getty Images

Foul weather during the past week has ensured Rugby Park will be sodden but Hardie said this would not necessarily translate into an advantage for Southland.

"It's going to be a really tough one," the hard-working flanker said. "Auckland have been playing in the wet for most of the season so they're used to it.

"They've been steadily improving during the season and, of course, they have a great record in shield challenges."

It has been a difficult preparation for Southland with the province ravaged by snow and bitter cold during the past few days.

"Motivation won't be a problem for us," Hardie said. "Auckland has been our bogey team for a long time now.

"I don't know how long it is since we've beaten Auckland...certainly not since I've been around."

As Hardie spoke, volunteers were clearing snow off Rugby Park but there was little question it would be heavy on Thursday night.

"We haven't been too disrupted in our preparations," Hardie said.

"I don't know that there's too much physical work to do at this stage of the season, only a few things to polish up on."

Southland has won seven of eight games this season, but five by five points or less as its heroic defence has enabled it to keep its line intact.

But it produced its most outstanding defensive effort of the season when it beat Waikato 7-6 last week, its first ever win over Waikato.

"It was definitely our best defensive effort," Hardie agreed. "Waikato can be a good attacking side and the guys did well.

"All the boys stepped up because they knew how important it was to pick up points going into the Ranfurly Shield games because you know all the teams challenging are going to give it heaps and it's going to be a bit of a dog-fight from now on."

Hardie, 22, who has played 30 games for Southland, was at the forefront of the Southland defensive screen, sometimes making two and three tackles in the one movement.

"The body is not too bad," he said. "We've had a few days off and we're ready to go again. We spent a lot of time tackling and we were pretty lucky, to be honest."

Southland will be without its most penetrative attacking back, Kendrick Lynn, who underwent a groin operation last Friday and it knows that Auckland, too prides itself on defence.

Auckland has conceded only nine tries this season, and just one in the past three games.

Southland lost 13-27 to Auckland at Eden Park last year, Hardie scoring its only try, and it knows it must fire up again if the shield is to remain in Invercargill.

"We were in the match last year but they shut us down and ran away with it late in the game," Hardie recalled. "They were very good at the breakdown and that's an area we've got to match them in on Thursday."

Hardie had a rousing Super 14 campaign with the Highlanders and has been influential for Southland throughout the NPC.

"I had a little bit of a slow start but now it's time for us Super 14 guys to step up," he said. "Overall, I've been fairly satisfied."

Hardie said he was sure there would be a big, supportive crowd on Thursday night, regardless of the weather.

"All this season's been huge," he said. "We've had more than 10,000 to every game. The public support has been amazing and we would like to repay them with our performances."