Stags’ committed defence a highlight

Southland Stags player Joshua Renton kicks ahead during the Bunnings NPC Championship semi-final match between Taranaki and Southland at TET Stadium & Events Centre, Taranaki, on Saturday. Photo: Andy Jackson/Getty Images

SOUTHLAND Stags’ season came to an end after losing the semi-final 25-13 to Taranaki on Saturday.

Both sides had made multiple player changes from when the two sides played each other in a round-robin match the previous week.

The field in Inglewood was waterlogged after Taranaki experienced a couple of days of heavy rain. The conditions forced both sides to play conservatively; kicking for territory and hoping to pounce on opposition mistakes.

Taranaki started the game best; after 10 minutes, former Stags halfback Logan Crowley scored Taranaki’s second try. The next 30 minutes were a slog in the sodden conditions. Goal kickers Marty Banks and Steve Perofeta landed two penalty goals each to make it 16-6 at the break.

Former Southlander Jono Bredin wasn’t much help as the referee; the Stags conceded 11 penalties in the first half.

Ten minutes into the second half, Southland got back in the game after a nicely-worked lineout set play saw lock Mike McKee pass it back down to winger Rory van Vugt, who charged through the middle and over the line to score. The conversion from Banks reduced the margin to 16-13.

The 17-8 penalty count against the Stags made it difficult to gain momentum and field position.

Southland kept battling but Taranaki finished the game best to book a place in this Saturday’s Championship Final against Otago.

Southland only won one of its seven games this season but was very competitive. The golden-point loss to Canterbury and a last-minute loss to Wellington could easily have been wins.

The dedicated attitude installed in the team by coach Dale MacLeod and inspirational captain Tony Lamborn has kept Stags fans engaged during the past two seasons. The excellent attitude was most evident in their committed team defence.

Looking to next season, Southland’s All Black prop Ethan de Groot, playmaker Marty Banks, and outside back Solomon Alaimalo will be part of the Highlanders team.

Lock Mike McKee has signed with the new Super team Moana Pasifika, while tight-head prop Chris Apoua and outside back Josh Moorby will be hoping to hear from a franchise in the coming weeks.

Openside flanker Matt James was a standout performer for the Stags, alongside Lamborn.