SOUTHLAND rugby fans were disappointed to see Southland lose its final match of the season on Friday night but not as gutted as captain Tony Lamborn.
Lamborn was frustrated the Counties team wanted it more on the night and said their 25-17 win was well deserved.
The Stags’ determined attitude had been the most impressive part of their 2020 season, but even with a chance of scraping into the Championship top four, they were out-passioned by Counties in Pukekohe.
As it turned out, even if the Stags had won they still would’ve missed out on the finals after Northland upset Waikato on Saturday to cement fourth place.
The Stags made huge improvements this year of Southland’s three wins in the Championship came against the top two teams, Hawke’s Bay and Otago. Northland and Taranaki are the other semi-finalists this week. The Stags had very close losses to BOP, Waikato, Northland, Taranaki and Manawatu.
For last Friday’s game the Stags had made just one change to the team which beat Otago the previous week, with wing Amanaki Nicole returning from injury.
It took 10 minutes before the Stags got some decent possession but they looked blunt during their seven phases of attack, before conceding a penalty.
The first 20 minutes was a stop-start affair with multiple errors. The Steelers had dominated territory and after 32 minutes their wing scored in the corner and ace goal kicker Jason Robertson converted it.
Five minutes before half-time Southland flanker Charles Alaimalo got sent to the sin bin for trying to slow down the Counties halfback who was trying to take a quick penalty.
The Stags trailed by seven points at the break, but Counties started the second half best, when its halfback scored a converted try.
Southland responded well and went straight back on attack, once left wing Tevita Latu got involved at the breakdown and barged his way over for a try. The Stags were soon back on attack and produced a powerful scrum and off the back Lamborn crashed over for a converted try.
Trailing 14-12 the Stags had the momentum with 25 minutes remaining, but Robertson soon kicked a penalty from 45 metres out.
Southland continued to attack but ball-handling, option-taking and a committed and niggly defence from Counties upset the Stags.
Inside the final 10 minutes, Counties nailed another shot at goal, and during the final five minutes Counties forwards kept it tight and calmly ran down the clock. In the 80th minute the Counties hooker scored from a lineout drive to seal the win.
There was still time for Southland to pull off an identical try to its replacement hooker Telemaitoga Tuapati.