It’s over. After 1079 days – three years and 27 games – the Southland Stags are victorious once again.
The Stags dominated Counties Manukau at Rugby Park in Invercargill on Saturday to walk away with a 42-14 win and claim their first victory since defeating Northland on October 8, 2016.
And after a string of strong performances so far in 2019, Stags coach Dave Hewett said it was a relief to finally break the streak and give his players the victory he felt they deserved.
“To actually get some of the boys who have played a lot of games in the Stags jersey but never won, that was really good to be involved in… it was a special occasion and a lot of people are really happy.”
A Stags fan congratulates Greg Pleasants-Tate after the win on Saturday
Rugby Park erupted into a loud Southland chant in the closing minutes of the game, a moment which he said was a special one to experience.
Having blown a 26-7 lead the week before against Manawatu, there were some jittery fans at Rugby Park when the Stags went into the sheds at the break with an 18-7 lead.
But all nerves were quickly blown out the window with a try to the Stags scored within the opening four minutes of the second half before another two tries helped them towards a famous victory.
Hewett said they used the experience against Manawatu the week prior as inspiration heading into the final 40 minutes.
For the first time in three years there was a winning scoreline at Rugby Park for the Stag
“That was a real strong message for us at half time in the Counties game. We actually have to keep attacking that lead because that’s how we got it in the first place. If you sit back and think you’re going to be alright the opposition will start scoring points and beat you like it happened in the Manawatu game. There was a real mindset shift and I think that was the key for the victory.”
And while there was definitely cause for celebration for the Stags, Hewett was already focused on building from the win and aiming for another.
“We can’t just leave it there at one. We’ve got to be working towards our second victory now. That’s the aim. We want to get another one. When that is will be decided by our performances so we’ve still got work to do. We’re under no illusions of how hard it will be.”
The Stags next travel to New Plymouth to take on Taranaki tonight (Thursday), a side only one spot higher on the Championship table with the Stags having moved up one position with the win.
A win would mean consecutive victories for the Stags for the first time since 2014, and miraculously keep their chances of making a fairytale return to the the finals for the first time that same year.
“We’ve still got three games to go and my expectation is we put performances in that we can be really proud of,” Hewett said. “We’re up against some really good sides. Taranaki on Thursday, Auckland the following week and Bay of Plenty after that. So they’re three really good sides who are going to be a massive challenge for us.”
This article was originally written for The Advocate. You can read the published version here