Rabbits? The Central Districts Stags don't have any if the three-wicket victory over the Wellington Firebirds was anything to go by yesterday.

Well, maybe the rampant Stags have two — Blair Tickner and Ajaz Patel — if you ask Black Caps seamer Rance.

"We always have the faith that the bowlers can do the job with the bat," said Rance after opening batsman George Worker provided the platform with 70 runs in the run chase to eclipse the hosts' 257-7 in 50 overs at the Basin Reserve in Wellington.

No 9 Rance scored 41 runs from 34 balls, including six boundaries and a six, while fellow new-ball speed merchant Adam Milne, at No 8, ticked things over with a run-a-ball 34, including four boundaries, to see the Stags home after specialist batsmen Ben Smith, Jesse Ryder, captain William Young, wicketkeeper Dane Cleaver came and went with the proficiency of an electricity meter reader.


No 7 Joshua Clarkson stepped up, emulating Milne's feat with 32 runs from as many balls, including two fours and sixes each, as CD closed their account with 258-7 and three overs to spare.

"It was a pretty pleasing win," said the 30-year-old in the penultimate round-robin match of the one-day Ford Trophy campaign as the Heinrich Malan-coached CD became the first team to make the playoffs in the previous round.

It pays to know that Rance, of Wairarapa, was a wicketkeeper/opening batsman during his age-group years and went on to represent CD U14s in that capacity so almost 15 years later he didn't hesitate to credit his prowess to muscle memory.

"It is [muscle memory] especially because the older I'm getting now I need to start batting well and it's an area I've really worked hard on, so in the last couple of games it's come off really nicely and that hard work's paying off."

Young won the toss and elected to bowl. The Firebirds batsmen also struggled with just South African import opener Malcolm Nofal (78 runs), veteran No 3 Stephen Murdoch (58) and No 6 Luke Woodcock (58no) stopping the rot on a wicket Rance considered 300 a par score.

Both sides traded wides (CD offering 15 and Wellington returning 16) with wind dictating terms at times but eliminating them before the playoffs was crucial, he said.

Rance said CD's base plan was for the top four batsmen to provide the platform for a defendable total for bowlers to plan their attack. He took 2-42 and Milne 2-39 yesterday.

"That hasn't happened for the last couple of games but we're still winning games leading into the finals so, hopefully, they're coming into form at the right time.


"We need someone like Jesse to start coming into form or Will Young and it'll be perfect for us."

Motivation wasn't an issue, he said, because momentum was vital with just one more game - against Northern Districts Knights at McLean Park, Napier, on Sunday.

"That's a very good Northern Districts team who will be pushing us really hard so it'll probably be a perfect build up for us to secure a home semifinals."

Complacency wouldn't be a factor, Rance said, because denting ND's confidence was on the agenda.

"It's nice to know [we have two lives] but we don't want to use them if we can help it."

The Stags are safe in their top-rung perch on the table and, according to an NZ Cricket report, will host the 1v2 semifinal at Pukekura Park, New Plymouth, on Saturday, February 17, although the opponents won't be known until after the final round this weekend.

Black Caps seamer Ben Wheeler didn't play for "personal reasons" but a more plausible reason was that he had been named in the T20 international squad while Rance and Bruce missed out.