New coach Mooar gets Stags into gear

DIFFERENT ROUTE: Southland Stags coach Brad Mooar.
DIFFERENT ROUTE: Southland Stags coach Brad Mooar.

On December 30 last year, Rugby Southland revealed to the public that it had a new Stags coach.

The board had opted for change, deciding to appoint Brad Mooar to replace David Henderson at the helm after his eight year stint as the Stags coach.

In January the Cantabrian - who was an assistant to Matt Sexton at South African Super Rugby team the Kings - made the move south to Invercargill.

Mooar set about putting a plan in place.

Part of the approach it seemed was to create competition for places by limiting the number of players who were contracted right up until the start of the provincial season.

As a result it added spice to the club season, Mooar won some fans in clubland for it.

The honeymoon period, however, is now over for Mooar - and the rest of the fresh looking Stags setup for that matter.

As brutal as it sounds the rugby public are fickle - results at the end of the day is what everyone is judged on and it starts against Bay of Plenty tonight.

The first three weeks look vital, considering Bay of Plenty, North Harbour and Otago are all fellow Championship sides.

A key to success in this competition is to win the majority, if not all, of your six Championship games and any wins against Premiership teams become a bonus.

Mooar however was reluctant to put as much emphasis on the first three weeks as I have.

"Every game is important, we'll just focus on the one that's next."

Mooar named his first team of the NPC season yesterday to play Bay of Plenty.

Four new Stags players will start tonight, which include Highlanders pivot Lima Sopoaga who has transferred from Wellington.

Southland will have two new wings with Fijian, and former Counties player, Lolohea Loco named on the right wing and Tongan international Qtulea Katoa on the left.

There will also be a new centre with Mark Jackman starting in the No 13 jersey.

The former Canterbury, Hawke's Bay and New Zealand sevens representative has signed with Southland for the next two seasons.

Jackman grabbed one of the midfield spots in the opening game and will partner Cardiff Vaega.

Vaega and Halaholo had developed a good combination last season but Halaholo will open the 2014 campaign from the bench.

Teenage loosefoward Bill Fukofuka is the only new face in the forward pack with the former Auckland age-group representative set to start on the blindside flank.

Hooker Dillon Halaholo, prop Tony Keresoma, lock Mike Stewart and first five-eighth/fullback Jamie Verran are all prospects to debut from the bench.

Mooar said yesterday just hooker Talemaitoga Tuapti was ruled out of tonight's game with a slight strain. Otherwise everybody else was available for selection, he said.

He was not getting caught up with the lengthy list of players who will step out for Southland for the first time tonight or where they have come from.

"I haven't looked at any of that stuff, it's simply these are the guys picked to represent the province and play the game," he said.

"They are all just as equal as any other player."

The Southland Times