THE Southland Stags are still in play-off contention with three rounds remaining in the Mitre 10 Championship.
A win in Feilding in round eight this Sunday against the winless Manawatu is a requirement.
The Stags’ following two games are against Otago in Invercargill, followed by a trip north to play Counties Manukau.
Southland supporters knew their team was up against it last Sunday when taking on the defending champs Tasman. Southland had again made several changes to its starting side and all players were eager to impress.
The changes included four debutantes; Kieran Lee on the wing, No 8 Arese Poliko and coming off the reserves bench were prop Niko Manaena and loose forward Jacob Coghlan.
Despite the perfect conditions at Trafalgar Park in Nelson and the high quality of players in the Tasman team, it took 20 minutes before the locals could score a converted try. The next scoring play was not until a Greg Dyer penalty goal on the stroke of half-time.
Both sides had tried to play expansively but good defensive pressure from both teams and a lack of accuracy with the ball helped cancel each other out. Southland would have been pleased with the 7-5 scoreline.
Tasman scored five minutes into the second half but Southland hit straight back with a converted try to captain Tony Lamborn. Scott Eade had made a slashing run to gain the momentum for the try and Southland’s best player was able to see a gap next to the ruck, and barge over.
Southland tried to use the advantage of the wind to kick for the corners but didn’t have much success and instead it offered opportunities to Tasman’s dangerous outside backs to run the ball back at them.
The Stags were still a winning chance after 55 minutes trailing 14-10, but they were a tired bunch after defending so well in the hot conditions. The classy Tasman side eventually broke free and scored five tries at regular intervals during the last quarter.
All Black David Havili was the man of the match and scored two tries from fullback. The bonus point win puts Tasman back on top of the premiership table.
Despite the scoreline there were again positives for Southland, openside Lamborn continued his superb season, while wing Tevita Latu and Coghlan were others worth a mention.