Southland holds Shield in forward joust

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Thursday, September 23, 2010    Getty Images

Robbie Robinson's boot was the difference as Southland survived its sixth challenge of the season with a moving exhibition of courage and commitment.

Scott Cowan kicked to touch to end the game and spark wild celebrations among the crowd, which had braved the frigid conditions.

Jason Rutledge, as usual, was outstanding for Southland but the entire pack lifted in the second spell while Cowan, Matt Saunders and Tony Koonwaiyou were influential in the backs.

Charlie Faumuina had a big game at tight-head prop for Auckland, captain Daniel Braid ruled the breakdowns until his injury but the Aucklanders could not break the impenetrable Stags' defence.

History was stacked against Southland, which had not beaten Auckland since 1971 and which had won only seven of 50 previous games. And, in a startling coincidence, it was 51 years to the day since Auckland had last lifted the shield off Southland.

The Stags kicked off in zero degrees, made worse by the wind chill factor, sleety showers and a sodden ground.

Auckland attacked immediately, putting together almost 20 phases before the ball was knocked on.

There was no score in the first quarter. Auckland had the territorial advantage but neither side looked like cracking the opposition defence.

Auckland seemed certain to score as it battered the line after 26 minutes but Rutledge wrenched the ball free for a turnover and Southland cleared.

Southland finally posted the first points after 30 minutes when Auckland was adjudged offside and Robinson kicked a straightforward penalty from 22 metres.

Auva'a was held up in goal four minutes before halftime as the Stags' defence continued to hold under severe pressure.

But Auckland equalised on the stroke of halftime when John Hardie played the ball on the ground and Mathew Berquist kicked the penalty from 35 metres.

Auckland had much the better of the first half but it was not reflected on the scoreboard. It had 71 percent territory, 58 percent possession, spent 10 minutes to three in the opposition 22 and dominated the breakdowns 69-27. It was all uphill for Southland as it began the second spell playing into the bitter breeze.

Auckland made the perfect start to the second half when Matt Saunders was penalised at the breakdown and Berquist, with the wind behind him, kicked the penalty from 42 metres.

But two minutes later John Afoa was penalised and Robinson kicked the goal from 43 metres to bring the scores level at 6-all.

Ten minutes into the spell Southland had made 100 tackles to 39 by Auckland, an indication of the almost incessant pressure the Stags' defence was under.

The Southland forwards put together 18 phases midway through the spell but Auckland withstood the assault and eventually turned the ball over.

Outstanding flanker and captain Braid took a heavy blow to the shoulder and neck in tackling Koonwaiyou at full steam and took a break in the blood bin.

Robinson had a chance to put Southland ahead 11 minutes from the end but his kick, from near touch, was badly astray but two minutes later, from a much more difficult position, he goaled expertly and the Stags led 9-6.

Replacement Auckland halfback Brenton Helleur broke almost to the line but Southland somehow survived and cleared its line.

Scores were: Southland 9 (Robbie Robinson 3 pen) Auckland 6 (Matt Berquist 2 pen). HT: 3-3