Southland handed Canterbury a second loss in a week as Dan Carter’s return ended in a 28-26 ITM Cup reverse at home.
Lima Sopoaga’s late penalty proved to be the difference between the two sides in a tight affair as Canterbury failed to bounce back from Wednesday’s loss to North Harbour.
Carter, fit again after the leg injury he picked up in the Crusaders’ Super Rugby defeat to the Waratahs, started the game at fly-half, and was called into action early to convert Nathaniel Apa’s early try after good work from Rob Thompson.
Southland responded immediately through winger Bryan Milne, with Sopoaga converting to level the scores after 11 minutes.
Carter added two more penalties for the home side, either side of a Sopoaga effort, as Canterbury led 13-10 before another Carter three-pointer on the stroke of half-time gave his side a little breathing space.
That was job done for Carter, who came off at the interval as he continues his recovery, but full-back Richie Mo’unga took over the kicking duties and quickly added another penalty.
Southland hit back though, with flanker John Hardie taking advantage of a loose pass from Mo’unga in his own in-goal area, although this time Sopoaga was off-target with the conversion.
He made up for it with his second penalty of the afternoon on the hour to cut the deficit back to one, before Canterbury extended their lead once more.
A penalty try, after the Southland scrum buckled just in front of their line, gave Mo’unga the easiest of conversions, and the home side led 26-18 with quarter of an hour remaining.
Southland weren’t done yet though, and they got back to within a point when Willis Halaholo went over after good work once more from Hardie. Sopoaga converted to cut the lead to one.
And having missed an earlier drop goal, Sopoaga kept his nerve two minutes from time as he slotted a penalty that handed Southland the win, although not before Mo’unga’s late penalty attempt to win it went wide.
Tries: Apa, Penalty
Conversions: Carter, Mo’unga
Penalties: Carter 3, Mo’unga
Tries: Milne, Hardie, W Halaholo
Conversions: Sopoaga 2
Penalties: Sopoaga 3
Canterbury: 15 Richie Mo’unga, 14 Nathaniel Apa, 13 Adam Whitelock, 12 Rob Thompson, 11 Michael Green, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Willi Heinz (c), 8 Nasi Manu, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Luke Whitelock, 5 Dominic Bird, 4 JJ Manning, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Alex Hodgman.
Replacements:16 Codie Taylor, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Matt Symons, 19 Jed Brown, 20 Mitchell Drummond, 21 Brett Maher, 22 Luteru Laulala.
Southland: 15 Mark Jackman, 14 Bryan Milne, 13 Cardiff Vaega, 12 Willis Halaholo, 11 Otulea Katoa, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Scott Eade, 8 Elliot Dixon, 7 Tim Boys, 6 John Hardie, 5 Craig Smith, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Juan Koen, 2 Tua Tuapati, 1 Jamie Mackintosh.
Replacements:16 Dillan Halaholo, 17 Morgan Mitchell, 18 Michael Fatialofa, 19 Alex Taylor, 20 Taylor Adams, 21 Jamie Verran, 22 Keanu Kahukara.
Referee: Richard Kelly