Close, but not close enough
Southland have come up just short in their attempt to win the Michael Jones Cup title at the national under-19 rugby tournament played in Taupo.
Southland beat Taranaki and a Heartland XV to book a place in Saturday’s final against Counties Manukau - which effectively was a playoff for 9th place at the 16-team tournament.
The Daryl Thompson-coached team showed glimpses of brilliance in the final and were able to run in five tries but it was Counties who came out with their noses in front at 33-31.
Referee Jono Bredin’s whistle dominated the first half as both teams struggled to rack up a large number of phases on attack as the penalty count and error rate stacked up.
It was at the 24min mark when Counties Manukau finally opened the scoring when second five-eighth Prince Saumani run a direct line from a scrum 5m from Southland’s line to score.
Just a matter of three minutes later Southland responded with a good try of their own.
From a close range lineout the Southland forwards played their part and went close to scoring before it was quickly shifted to the blindside where first five-eighth Mitch Taylor flicked it on nicely to right wing Regan Wilson who did well in limited space to score.
Southland’s first half defence was generally good but a defensive lapse just minutes out from halftime cost them as they let in their second try to go into the break 14-5 down.
Southland were able to respond just a matter of minutes into the second half through Wilson’s second try.
Southland were awarded a penalty in handy position and halfback Jay Renton opted to take a quick tap.
He sent the ball wide to big No 8 Viliame Tosi who was able to get a pass away to the unmarked Wilson to score.
However, the two teams were trading tries.
Counties Manukau No 8 Fuitati Asomua was able to score the first of his two second half tries before Taylor chimed in with a bit of individual brilliance.
From a close range scrum, the Southland first five-eighth got the ball at first receiver, spotted a gap and took it as he went in largely untouched to score which brought the score back to 21-17.
The trend of trading tries was however broken as Counties scored two tries in a matter of minutes to push out to 33-17 with just over 10 minutes to play which was a telling factor.
But yet Southland still hadn’t run out of fight as they again got field position and from a lineout drive hooker and captain Jaya More was able to score in the 61st minute. His fifth try in the three games of the tournament.
The Renton conversion reduced it to 33-24.
While the result was all but sorted Southland was able to have the final say in the final minute of through another More try as Southland brought the final score closer at 33-31.
While the end result wasn’t what Southland were after some individual players did show enough to suggest they could be key figures long-term for Southland rugby.
First five-eighth headed that queue.
He was Southland’s most dangerous attacking threat throughout the final, both through his running game and is nice passing skills.
Halfback Jay Renton again was good and with his under-19 commitments done he may well now link up with the Stags during the remainder of their Mitre 10 Cup campaign.
More and loosehead prop Sy Waiti were also good in the frontrow for Southland. Mitch Taylor