Southland captain Jamie Mackintosh scored a controversial match-winning try to retain the Ranfurly Shield with a 16-12 victory over Otago.
Southland captain Jamie Mackintosh scored a controversial match-winning try to break Otago hearts and retain the Ranfurly Shield with a 16-12 victory in Invercargill on Saturday.
Fourteen minutes from full-time and with a player in the bin, Otago held a three-point lead until the Stags skipper burrowed his way over from close-range.
After hesitating, referee Jonathon White awarded the try without making use of the TMO option – now back in business after being shelved last year. It was a brave decision with replays later showing that the grounding of Mackintosh's try was inconclusive.
As Otago players were left fuming behind the posts, James Wilson landed the touchline conversion that proved to be enough for a thrilling Shield defence for the home side.
Southland's neighbours last held the shield in 1957, and a half-century of angst and frustration was extended by another unsuccessful tilt as they came out on the wrong side of a heavy penalty count.
White seemingly had eyes only for Otago as the challengers were pulled up constantly for infringements at the breakdown and they had to make do with 14 men for 20 minutes after having two players sent to the sin-bin.
The referee penalised Otago four times in the opening 12 minutes alone then sin-binned fly-half Glenn Dickson for a lifting tackle on a Southland rival. But the visitors conceded no points in his absence, although two kickable penalties were squandered when Dickson's back-up Ben Smith failed to find his target.
Southland led 6-3 at this stage on the back of two penalties from full-back Robbie Robinson, but Otago nudged ahead 9-6 by the interval when Dickson returned to add two more of his own.
Otago had 62 per cent territory and 59 possession in the first half – referee White awarded 20 penalties, 11 to Southland, which had also been effective at the pick-and-go.
The ferocious forward battle continued in the second spell, Southland absorbing a lot of pressure and the man in the middle, perhaps over-anxious by the niggle between the packs, continued to dish out the penalties and contribute to the tension.
Otago were penalised at a maul and Wilson goaled from 25m out to tie the scores at 9-all. But the visitors worked their way back into Southland territory and when the forwards won a ruck, Dickson sent over a cheeky drop-goal to regain the lead. 12-9 to Otago.
Southland then took the chance to make their numerical superiority count after Otago prop Sam Hibbard was yellow-carded for being offside at a ruck on his own line.
Southland capitalised almost immediately, driving to the line on three occasions before Mackintosh won the referee's vote of confidence with a try in the 66th minute.
Otago had nothing more to give at that point, having exhausted themselves with a high octane approach throughout the match as the Stags held firm for another famous win.
Pens: Robinson 2, Wilson
Pens: Dickson 3
Southland: 15 Robbie Robinson, 14 Glen Horton, 13 Kendrick Lynn, 12 Matt Saunders,11 James Paterson/Mark Wells,10 James Wilson,9 Scott Cowan,8 Elliot Dixon,7 Tim Boys, 6 John Hardie,5 Joe Tuineau,4 Josh Bekhuis,3 Chris King, 2 Jason Rutledge, 1 Jamie Mackintosh (c).
Replacements: 16 Bayden Mitchell, 17 Nic Barrett/Michael Peterson, 18 Dion Bates, 19 Kane Thompson, 20 Sonny Rangitohereri, 21 Wells/Pehi Te Whare, 22 Tony Koonwaiyou.
Otago: 15 Chris Small, 14 Ryan Shortland, 13 Ben Smith, 12 Josh Tatupu, 11 Fetu'u Vainikolo, 10 Glenn Dickson, 9 Sean Romans, 8 Adam Thomson, 7 Alando Soakai (c), 6 Eben Joubert, 5 Hayden Triggs, 4 Hoani Matenga, 3 Sam Hibbard, 2 Peter Mirrielees, 1 Kees Meeuws.
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Blair Young, 18 Seko Kalou, 19 Peter Grant, 20 Johnny Legg, 21 Andrew Parata, 22 Joe Hill.
Referee: Jonathon White