Southland 33 Bay of Plenty 25
Optimism did not translate into performance last night as the sixth round of the ITM Cup began.
Neither Bay of Plenty nor Southland have had much success with their performance or polish and were trailing the premiership and championship ladders.
The southern men travelled to joust at Mt Maunganui and looked the most likely for much of the first spell.
What looked like an early fair try for Southland was ruled out on the forward pass judgment from TMO Phil Barnett but hooker Talemaitoa Tuapati made amends when he barged across from close range.
Fullback Robbie Robinson, Naulia Dawai and Calvary Fonoti made a number of forays but the Bay's defensive line held. They rarely got to the other end of the park but when they did, Willie Ripia's accurate goalkicking kept them in the match.
And right on the break Bay winger Kimani Sitauti wriggled over. That gave the Bay an unlikely halftime lead and the 3342-strong crowd no clues about the outcome. They were out of their seats soon after but Joe Tupe knocked on as he went to the line. It was left to Ripia to keep hurting Southland for their negligence, errors and repeated infringements.
But at last the visitors found some very late energy. They gathered a driving try from a close scrum, Marty McKenzie completed a long-range kick and chase break and in a blink, Southland were in front.
Scott Eade smacked another penalty through the target and the men in maroon were in control.
It was a huge reversal for the Bay but a great fillip for Southland which shifts them from a nationwide last into the middle of the chasing group.
Southland: (Talemaitoa Tuapati, Elliot Dixon, Marty McKenzie, tries; Scott Eade 3 con, 4 pen). Bay of Plenty: (Kimani Sitauti, tries; Willie Ripia 6 pen, con). Halftime: 13-19.