Southland mixed adventure with commonsense to nail a clever win over Bay of Plenty in Mt Maunganui on Saturday night and earn a historic Air New Zealand Cup semifinal.
The Stags produced high-energy attack in the first spell to engineer a handy lead and then played percentage football to impressively see out a stunning 45-11 victory with All Blacks halfback Jimmy Cowan at the hub of the action.
Their reward is a trip to Wellington next weekend to take on the Lions in the semifinals.
On current form Southland will certainly be a chance. They will be desperate to produce a better reflection of their ability in their first semifinal at this level than they managed in their disappointing Ranfurly Shield challenge at Eden Park earlier in the season.
This Mt Maunganui match appealed as the most even of the quarter-finals with fourth-placed Bay of Plenty hosting the fifth-placed Stags.
But Southland dominated for long periods to reverse the 22-24 loss at the same ground in round-robin play two weeks ago and earn a handsome win.
On the evidence of this clash rugby is very much live in the heartland. Like the good crowds at Invercargill, the Steamers have been attracting plenty of fans this season with another solid turnout at Bay Park.
And they were treated to plenty of action – much of it good quality but most of it from the visitors.
The Stags’ only blemish was when they appeared to have 16 players momentarily on the field during the final quarter. But by then they were ahead 38-11 and the result was beyond doubt.
The Stags, playing into a stiff breeze in the opening half, stunned the Steamers with their open approach. They put repeated phases together with good handling and some straight running helped them to a 21-8 lead at the break with three fine tries.
From there they were happy to rely on Blair Stewart putting them into the right areas of the paddock to see out victory, scoring a further three tries, all of them converted.