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1980 saw Invercargill make it into the final by beating Bluff 16-13 in a thrilling game at Rugby Park. It was a classic game of the victor having to wear down the opposition who was going to go down kicking and screaming. Gerald Hipango was heading the Bluff onslaught and was backed up by his halfback Chris Hini.
Hipango had been bought up from the Senior Reserve team and was a beautiful player to watch with his hand control of the ball and pace, he was the pivot of the Bluff backline.
It was unfortunate for Bluff that Invercargill probably played their best game of the season and were playing like men possessed. Hipango that had also kicked well all day for Bluff was blocked in his chase for one of his kicks and could not get to Barry low who took off downfield and found Brian Hewitt to pass to and he found the room to off load to half back Donald Ward and when the defence came up to him he passed to Philip Stevenson who scored. Ron Whelan kicked the conversation and 5 minutes later slotted a penalty goal.
Stevenson, one of the most underated backs in the competition was instrumental in the 39th minute where he found winger, Alan Jones who scored.
Bluff started well and did not let Invercargill get into their heads even when they were winning the majority of the set phases, especially the lineouts. For Bluff, No 8, Terry Dixon and flanker Jeff Mead were outstanding and with Hini continually driving them to go forward they were a strong combination. Chris Hini was showing skills that he had built on from his Australian tour and his passing in particular was outstanding and of course it was enhanced by Hipango's skills.
Bluff full back, Rangi Puki was solid and it was unfortunate that three of his penalty goals just missed, hitting the uprights and cross bars. Winger Kevin Flutey was unsuspecting being of a slight build, but he was brave under the high ball.
Colin Blackie and Barry Low were great for Invercargill in the forwards but it was the backs for Invercargill that showed up.
Bluff were very unlucky on the day as a bad referee decision cost them when they were hot on attack and looking to score when the ref blew it up with a late tackle on Hipango.
INVERCARGILL: Alan Jones (1) Phillip Stevenson (1) Ron Whelan (1con) (2PG)
BLUFF: Terry Dixon (1) Kevin Flutey (1) Rangi Puki (1con) (1PG)
Reference: The Southland Times July 1980
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