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Dixon wary of Counties Manukau

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Thursday, July 28, 2011    Sportal.co.nz    Getty Images

8 Elliot Dixon has only to think back to last year to have no doubt Counties-Manukau will provide a strong challenge when Southland defends the Ranfurly Shield in Invercargill on Friday night.

The Stags won 13-9 but only after surviving a torrid challenge from the Pukekohe-based Steelers.

"It was a really tough game," Dixon recalled. "It went right to the wire and we only won it when we kicked it out in the last minute. It was a hell of a game to play in.

"Challenges like that are always tough. They're a real step up. It's going to be pretty exciting. We have to have self-belief after beating Canterbury but we realise Counties will be a real threat with the type of rugby they're playing.

"But you just have to try to treat it as another game. You can't get out of your usual routines just because it's the shield."

Counties lost 13-20 in its first game this season but has since hit its straps, beating Manawatu 32-25 and Tasman 32-23 and showing plenty of try-scoring ability. It has never won the Shield despite some desperately close calls, including two draws.

Dixon (21) has been one of Southland's most consistent forwards this year after some injury frustrations.

He played nine games for the Stags last year but missed the latter part of the season after he tore his hamstring.

"It was a nuisance to be injured when the team was going so well," he said. "It was very frustrating."

And, chosen for the Highlanders this year, he dislocated his elbow and ripped the ligaments, an injury which sidelined him for most of the campaign.

It is a relief for Dixon to be on the field and playing well again.

"I've been quite pleased with my form. I just hope it continues and I can stay injury-free."

Dixon could easily have been playing for Canterbury in the Shield match last weekend but decided to throw in his lot with Southland.

He was brought up in Christchurch and educated at St Bedes College but, after talking to Southland team-mates in then World Cup-winning New Zealand under-20 team of 2009, decided to make the move south.

"It's worked out well for me," he said. "I haven't regretted it.

"I had all my family and friends there on Saturday and I caught up with them all after the game so that was great. It was definitely the biggest thrill of my career to date.

"I don't think many people expected us to win but there was a quiet confidence within the team. We knew we were capable. There were just a few opportunities in the previous two games that we didn't take."

Southland has named an unchanged starting lineup from that which won the Shield from Canterbury last Saturday.