THE Southland Stags will be desperate to win their round three Mitre 10 Cup match against North Harbour in Invercargill on Saturday afternoon.
Southland came agonisingly close to recording its second win last weekend but went down 17-14 to Bay of Plenty (BOP) in Rotorua.
Right from start the Stags tried to play an expansive style, but they lacked the finesse. Instead it was the Steamers who opened the scoring after putting 12 phases together.
After 27 minutes, a well-placed chip kick from Stags’ centre Isaac Te Tamaki was regathered and dotted down in the corner by wing Amanaki Nicole.
Hooker Greg Pleasants-Tate then scored a more familiar-looking Southland try from a well-controlled rolling maul.
Right on half-time the BOP halfback scored a crucial try to lock the scores at 14-all.
After 55 minutes the locals landed one of their penalty shots at goal, and five minutes later Pleasants-Tate was sent to the sin bin for bad mouthing the referee.
The Stags’ defence during the 30 minutes after half-time was excellent.
BOP was led by All Black captain Sam Cane; he put his team’s inability to turn its possession into points down to inaccuracy and Southland’s first-class defence, which forced errors.
In the final 10 minutes, Southland turned down two penalty shots at goal which would have forced the game into golden point extra time.
Southland instead tried to take the lead with a try.
With two minutes remaining the Stags’ rolling maul was just one metre from the line when the players lost control of the ball with the help of a BOP player in an off-side position.
Captain Tony Lamborn and Coach Dale MacLeod were proud of their team’s effort but were gutted not to get a win frustrated a couple of the referee’s calls didn’t go their way.
The Stags’ lineout and scrum struggled in the first half but tight forwards Greg Pleasants-Tate and Manaaki Selby-Rickit were again strong in general play.
All three outside backs, Rory Van Vugt, Josh Moorby and especially Nicole, impressed.
Replacement halfback Logan Crowley had a better game when he took to the field after half-time. Other reserves to make an obvious impact were prop Ethan de Groot, lock Mike McKee and midfielder Ray Nu’u.
The Stags team selection for the 4.35pm kick-off on Saturday will be interesting.
The team will be hoping a big crowd can help them deal North Harbour its third loss of the season at Rugby Park Stadium in Invercargill.