The Tasman Red Devils produced a below-par warm-up for their Seddon Shield defence next weekend when they went down 41-26 to Buller in Murchison on Sunday.
The Devils will defend the symbol of top of the south rugby supremacy against the Tasman Griffins at Lansdowne Park on Saturday.
Although on home turf, they will enter the match as underdog after the Griffins downed Buller comfortably the previous weekend to earn a crack at the trophy, the same weekend that the Devils beat West Coast to retain the silverware.
On Sunday, Buller came home stronger in wet and windy conditions, scoring a couple of late tries to inflate the scoreline which was tilted the Devils’ way until hooker Billy Collins was sinbinned midway through the second spell.
In a see-sawing encounter the Devils scored first, through centre Jake Cresswell, before Buller replied to level at 7-7.
A Braden Stewart touchdown sent the Devils ahead 14-7 before the lads from Westport took advantage of a defensive error to level again at 14-14.
Just before the break midfielder Ben Filipo put the men in red ahead 21-14, Corey Bovey adding his third conversion.
Soon after oranges Buller showed their resilience to again pull level, before Stewart grabbed his second to put his side ahead 26-21.
A penalty to Buller closed the gap to 26-24 before Collins was carded, reducing the Devils to 14 men at a vital stage, a numerical advantage Buller’s big pack and strong bench exploited to pick up a morel-boosting win before their Heartland Championship campaign.
Red Devils’ coach Baz Henare said Filipo, Jesse MacDonald, Bovey and Mitch Smith played key roles for his side, while youngsters Daniel Van Waas and Jake Collins, Dylan Burns, Michael Tuipulotu and Quinn Harrison-Jones also stood out, the whole bench getting good game time in preparation for next week’s challenge.
Scores from Sunday: Buller 41 Marlborough 26 (Braden Stewart 2, Jake Cresswell, Ben Filipo tries, Corey Bovey 3 con). HT: 21-14 Devils.
Tasman Griffins 28 West Coast 17.