Stags reveal a stubborn streak
Hoani Macdonald’s frustration was obvious after Southland’s 27-17 loss to Auckland last night.
The Southland Stags coach’s frustration didn’t flow from the effort his team showed, and the stubbornness the Stags players offered on defence for 80 minutes. The frustrated look steamed from the fact they let slip a game which he felt was there to win.
The Stags took the game deep into the contest, which was something many people want to see from them.
The talented Auckland outfit struggled to break Southland down for a majority of the game, but the end outcome for Southland was still zero competition points.
‘‘The 80 minute effort yes, but we could have been a bit smarter,’’ Macdonald said when asked if he was happy with what his team produced.
‘‘We made a heap of tackles. I’d say we would have made 150 tackles at least, and for the boys to keep making the effort they did after making all those tackles is pleasing, but we just didn’t quite get it right.
‘‘For me that game was there for the taking, we left that out there. So that is the frustration because we know we can win these games. We are doing good things and hopefully the people of Southland can see that, we just need to be smarter,’’ he said.
Southland scored after just three minutes of play when the Stags forwards went to work and it was hooker and captain Brayden Mitchell who crashed over from close range.
In difficult kicking conditions Scott Eade landed the conversion from out wide to make it 7-0.
For the next 15 minutes Auckland went on attack but came up empty-handed as Auckland lacked polish, in particular their lineout, while the Southland defence remained staunch.
It took a left-field try to finally break Southland in the 26th minute when No 8 Jerome Kaino plucked the ball out of a ruck 5m from the line and waltzed over largely untouched.
Auckland were back in again five minutes later when flanker Blake Gibson found himself in the clear before setting up right winger Vince Aso to make it 12-7.
However, just when Auckland looked to take charge Southland were able to strike back when lock Tepasu Thomas spotted a gap before feeding halfback Liam Howley on the inside who was able to score.
The Eade extras pushed Southland in front at 14-12, but they did lose Howley, who injured his leg in the process of scoring and was forced from the field.
It meant some reshuffling with Eade going from first five-eighth into halfback and Greg Dyer coming off the bench.
Auckland did have the final say in the first half through a Jono Hickey penalty, so they went into the break 15-14 up.
Six minutes into the second half a Greg Pleasants-Tate try extended the lead to eight points.
A penalty from Eade in the 65th minute narrowed the gap, but just when hopes floated over the home crowd, Auckland were able to find something to keep their noses in front, with blindside flanker Taleni Seu scoring a decisive try to give them a the 27-17 win.
Auckland will now spend some time in Queenstown preparing for the next game against Otago in Dunedin on Thursday.
For Southland, they will head north to take on Bay of Plenty in Rotorua on Wednesday before heading to Nelson to take on Tasman next Sunday.
The good news for Southland is Howley’s leg injury isn’t as bad as first thought and the hope is he’ll be right by Wednesday night’s game against Bay of Plenty.
Southland’s Tepasu Thomas, left, and Brayden Mitchell wrap up Auckland’s Taleni Seu at Rugby Park in Invercargill last night