THE Southland Stags and the Taranaki Bulls played a dead rubber round-robin match at TET Stadium, in Taranaki, on Sunday afternoon.
The Bulls kept their unbeaten record intact for the season when they won the game 24-10 but the Stags will take some positives from the close loss.
Although the weather in Inglewood was perfect for running rugby, both sides made multiple handling errors in the game, which led to multiple scrums, most of which were reset. Both sides had some good moments but, with both fielding makeshift teams, it was a low-quality game.
Southland started the game with greater intensity, and was rewarded with an early try to No 8 Charles Alaimalo. Unfortunately, Alaimalo had to leave the field after 15 minutes with a shoulder injury.
Southland had all the territory and most of the possession in the first half, but a lot of it was wasted.
The score was tied at 10-all at half-time. Southland was still well in the match until the 60th minute. The Bulls were leading 17-10 when a stray pass from the Stags went to ground and a Taranaki speedster hacked the ball ahead, and regathered to score a long-range try.
Taranaki never looked like relinquishing the 14-point lead after that.
The Stags’ pack had the upper hand, which will give them confidence heading into this weekend but in the backs they were outpaced by Taranaki’s Fijian flyers on the wings who scored all three of the side’s tries.
Southland’s lock forward Ben Morris, openside Tony Lamborn, midfielder Matt Whaanga and wing Kieran Lee all played well.
Stags’ hooker Jacob Payne and flanker Hayden Michaels both made their debuts off the bench.
Southland will welcome back Marty Banks into the 10 jersey this week and will feel an upset win this Saturday is more than possible.
Both sides face off again in the semi-final at the same venue at 2.05pm on Saturday.