Bay of Plenty 33
All Black long shot Colin Bourke had a strong game as Bay of Plenty ensured that Southland's hangover after the Ranfurly Shield tenure was still a headache.
Bourke, the classy Bay No 8, has attracted plenty of support for All Black selection from various rugby commentators - including the Herald on Sunday's Richard Loe (see p95). He responded by scoring one try and making two others in another convincing, all-round game at this level.
Bourke's break made the Bay's second try; he set up another for halfback Taniela Moa and then barged over himself. He was subbed off 15m from the end - which was when Southland mounted something of a comeback.
After losing the Ranfurly Shield in emotional circumstances last week, the Stags produced a tired display against a freewheeling Bay. They came to life in the last 15 minutes but the gap was too great. It was their second successive defeat while the home side chalked up their fifth win in six matches.
Bay of Plenty scored five tries to three to retain their spot in the top four while Southland slip down the ladder.
With the game being played in Gordon Tietjens' back yard, the match often resembled a sevens contest and the open style of play looked like the last thing Southland needed. Bay of Plenty completely dominated the first 60 minutes and the game looked over at 30-8 before the Stags' late rally.
After an ordinary start to the season, Bay of Plenty have been in rollicking form recently. They have beaten Counties Manukau, Otago and Wellington over the last month and endured a bizarre match against Tasman last week, losing the game despite scoring six tries to three.
Southland exhibited plenty of post-Shield blues early on, conceding two tries in the first 10 minutes.
Highly touted first-five Mike Delany dived over from virtually the first attack, nipping over near the posts; eight minutes later Bourke broke from a scrum in the 22 and right winger Lelia Masaga dotted down in the corner.
The Stags edged their way back into the match but only had a penalty to James Wilson to show for their efforts. Bay of Plenty's first half dominance was confirmed when fullback Toby Arnold scored a superb individual five-pointer three minutes before the break.
Bourke was prominent early in the second half. First the powerful number eight raged down the blindside before feeding Moa and the halfback was too strong for the covering defence.
Then, after a Jason Rutledge-inspired attack eventually led to Southland's first try through Wilson, Bourke muscled over from a lineout five metres out. That should have killed off the game with over 20 minutes still on the clock.
There was a seven-man brawl that went for a full minute while play continued, with instigators Jamie Mackintosh and Josh Hohneck being forced to sit side by side on the sideline. By this stage Southland had made wholesale changes, and their substitutes sparked them into life with two late tries.
Bourke was best for the victors while Wilson did his best behind a beaten pack. Delany had a strong start to the match but faded in the second half and had a disappointing day with the boot, landing only three from eight.
Bay of Plenty 33 (M. Delany, L. Masaga, T. Arnold, T. Moa, C. Bourke tries; Delany con, 2 pen); Southland 22 (J. Wilson, S. Manu, B. Mitchell try; Wilson 2 cons, pen). Halftime: 20-3.