AFTER another close loss in Invercargill on Saturday night, Southland has now dropped to fifth in the Mitre 10 Championship with four round-robin games remaining.
Southland stuck with its rotation policy for the round six match against Taranaki when making six changes to its starting side for the game.
The 17-9 result was another tough loss to take for Southland. The effort was excellent again, but Taranaki had an equally good attitude and deserved the win after scoring two tries.
Taranaki scored its first converted try after 12 minutes, five minutes later the Stags turned down a simple attempt at goal, instead punting for the corner and aiming to score from a lineout drive. The drive was botched. First-five eighth Scott Eade landed a penalty goal soon after and another long-range goal two minutes before half-time.
The 7-6 score at half-time was a fair reflection of the way the game was going. Both sides attacked with endeavour but had also done a great job in defence. Southland had a territory and possession advantage but, as has been the case this season, points were hard to come by.
In the five minutes after half-time, both sides kicked a penalty goal each. With a quarter of the game remaining Taranaki’s right wing Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens scored a great try after chip-kicking the ball and regathering before side-stepping inside the final defender. The conversion from out wide put the visitors in front 17-9.
Taranaki had a man sent to the sin-bin for a shoulder charge with 13 minutes remaining. The Stags and its supporters were hoping this advantage would help them to finish ahead of the visitors.
With two minutes remaining, Southland turned down a simple chance for a penalty goal which would have given it a bonus point and then possession from the kick-off.
Instead the Stags opted for a lineout and the resulting maul was held up. Southland did have another penalty goal attempt in the last play of the game but it missed.
Taranaki first-five eighth Stephen Perofeta had the most influence over the game in general play. Stags fullback Josh Moorby and centre Isaac Te Tamaki looked dangerous when running the ball, but handling errors were again an issue for the Stags.
Southland will have one of its toughest assignments of the season this Sunday against premiership team Tasman at 2.05pm in Nelson.