You should never underestimate the men from the south when it comes to innovation on the rugby paddock.
Southland proved that when they surprised nearly everyone by declaring they would replace half their team with about eight minutes remaining in the first half of their national provincial championship match against Bay of Plenty in Invercargill on Wednesday night.
Although the Stags lost the pulsating encounter 25-23, the biggest discussion topic after the game at Rugby Park was why co-coaches David Hall and James Wilson elected to inject all eight replacements into the action at around the 32-minute mark.
It is common practice to make changes in the third quarter, at the earliest, but Hall revealed after the game he and Wilson were prepared to be unorthodox as they tried to get the Stags to win their first game in more than a year.
Asked if they always intended to unload all their reserves so early the game, Hall answered in the affirmative.
“That was the plan, mate,’’ he told Sky Sport. “We talked with the boys this week about doing something a wee bit different.
“So we rolled like the South Africans – only we went a wee bit earlier, and not with 120kg players all coming on."
Hall’s reference to the South Africans was a nod to their tactic of bringing on their “Bomb Squad’’ – their big men from the tight five – during test matches, usually within minutes of the restart of the second half.
There’s one big difference, however. The Springboks rarely, if ever, unload all of their players from the pine at the same time.
Usually teams wait until around the middle of the second half, or later, to inject fresh legs into the teams in an effort to up the tempo down the home straight.
Veteran TV commentator Tony Johnson summed things up nicely, with his statement during the game: “I mean they’ve just scored a try, it’s not as though the coach would be angry with them,” he said.
“This is just getting a little weird, this game.”
The Southlanders, however, clearly hoped they could surprise Bay of Plenty with their strategy. It almost worked, too.
Southland could have won the game if Dan Hollinshead succeeded with two penalties inside the final two minutes.
Southland will get one more shot at securing their first victory of the season when they travel north to tackle Manawatū in Palmerston North on Sunday.