OPINION: It's been a tough year to date for the Southland Stags, with the 84-0 hiding dished out by Canterbury on Sunday drawing a lot of attention to their frailties. So just where is it going wrong? Logan Savory suggests five key problems that may have had Southland battling.
Generally when opposition teams shift the ball a couple of passes from the ruck, scrum, or lineout this is where plenty of the defensive woes have started for the Stags this season.
Southland's backline defence is vulnerable and in general play on Sunday, Canterbury's impressive attacking options found too many mismatches where their nimble backs zeroed in on tight forwards wide from the ruck, taking them on in a one-on-one situation where the back close to the line always came up trumps.
Defence is usually built around three key things: attitude, structure and trust in your team-mate beside you.
They haven't ticked these three boxes often enough this season as they had done in previous years.
While many of the Stags' backline look promising, it is hard to go past the fact they still have their training wheels on when you talk National Provincial Championship rugby.
Many of them could be classed as rookies and most of them have been guilty of making rookie mistakes in defensive plays and also option-taking on attack.
In the backline that was rolled out against Canterbury, the ages were 18, 20, 28, 30, 21, 20, 20.
The young brigade are learning the hard way that even the smallest of errors can cost you against quality opposition.
They have handed the ball over with relative ease to opposition attacks to launch something from this season.
The "kick to land not to hand" phrase that is often belted out has not been as prevalent as people would have liked with the Stags this season.
In the demanding 10-week season, depth in all teams gets tested.
Injuries strike most, but it is what cover they have that determines how well they will get through it.
The Stags have battled to soldier on with injuries and short turnarounds this season.
While the NZRU put a lot of weight on population base and player numbers when looking at which unions should or should not be part of the top flight, many scoffed at them.
It is painful to say, but they probably did have a point.
On previous occasions Southland has countered that lack of playing depth and injury by buying in replacement players and having a bigger wage bill than anybody else.
However, it became obvious that was not going to be financially sustainable long-term for the union.
Getting the club competition humming and building depth is an absolute must for the future.
Barring 40 minutes against Hawke's Bay, Southland hasn't been able to create enough real momentum with the ball and get the opposition defence back-pedalling.
Tim Cornforth has been the biggest threat on attack, but most of the time it has had to come when there was little on and from a standing start, rather than direct and quick plays.
Ten tries from seven games for the Stags highlights their need to create more opportunities, and when they do they need to have the composure to finish them off.
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