THE Southland Stags will be back in front of a home crowd in Invercargill on Saturday night against Taranaki.
In perfect conditions in Whangarei last Saturday, the Stags had another close loss 18-14 against Northland.
Southland deserved to win the game after dominating territory and possession but lacked the finesse to score; the local defence deserved huge credit as they managed to force errors and penalties at key times. Northland scored points from most of its chances and is now leading the Championship.
The Stags attempted to show their try-scoring abilities, and again created multiple opportunities but poor execution and patience cost them.
Hooker Greg Pleasants-Tate was the Stags’ best. Soon after kick-off, Tate made a 70m run up the field but, as was the case for most of the game, the ball was soon lost forward.
Northland kicked a goal after eight minutes, and scored a try five minutes later. After 21 minutes, Northland’s Dan Hawkins landed his second goal from 50m out.
After 33 minutes Southland attacked from a 5m scrum and Tony Lamborn crashed over. Scott Eade converted.
Southland would have been disappointed to be trailing 11-7 at half-time after dominating territory and possession. Southland had launched multiple attacking raids but when likely to score they’d cough up possession.
Southland’s finest moment of the match was in the 48th minute when Lamborn earned a turnover behind his own 22m line. He moved the ball wide on the right to Amanaki Nicole, who charged downfield before finding halfback Raniera Takarangi in support back on the inside. Raniera put in an accurate grubber kick for Isaac Te Tamaki to run on to and sprint to the corner for a brilliant team try. Eade converted from out wide to put the Stags in front 14-11.
Unfortunately Northland hit straight back with a good team try, which was also converted.
With 14 minutes remaining, Northland had a man sent to the sin bin. During this time Southland looked certain to score, first through Lamborn, then Takarangi and then Greg Dyer. In the last play of the game, the Stags were again centimetres short and were penalised.
Captain Tony Lamborn was outstanding, while wing Amanaki Nicole and Tate were equally as impressive.
With an ounce of luck Southland could have won all five games so far, so it will be no surprise to see them beat Taranaki on Saturday. Kick-off is at 7.05pm.