Stags fall apart in second half
Southland assistant coach Daryl Thompson summed it up best as he trudged down the Rugby Park stairs last night when he suggested the Stags' first-half effort against Taranaki was worthy of a semifinal team, while the second half was anything but.
After copping an 84-0 hiding from Canterbury the week before, and letting in five second-half tries in yesterday's 47-18 loss to the amber-and-blacks, it seems bizarre during Southland's worst season in recent memory that we are still talking about the Stags being involved in playoffs rugby.
And yet we are.
A win over Manawatu at home on Friday would leave the Stags needing Counties Manukau to beat Northland the following day to book them a place in the championship semifinals.
But on the evidence of 120 of the past 160 minutes of rugby by Southland, victory over a Turbos team, who looked confident beating Hawke's Bay in a gale on Saturday and could welcome back All Black pivot Aaron Cruden, is less than assured.
Frustration is the key word in Stagland at the moment.
Southland, even with the injury woes they have had to endure this season, have failed to take the steps forward that they promised last season.
Frustrated was certainly the way head coach David Henderson was feeling after yesterday's game.
"As a coach you are wanting 80 minutes, not 55. At halftime we talked about patience, building phases and eliminating mistakes.
"In the space of five minutes they had pulled that lead back and passed us," he said.
"There were lapses in set-piece defence - everyone knows their jobs because you practise it and practise it, and we do it for 40 minutes - I don't know if it's youth or it's something that's not quite right there."
Henderson is contracted for another season as head coach but said he had not given any thought to the future beyond 2012.
"I won't be thinking about that until after the end of the season.
"You don't start thinking about those things until after the dust settles."
After yesterday's effort, he could be forgiven for wondering what headway he's making after the schizophrenic effort from the Stags.
The first half was as good a period of rugby as Southland has produced this season.
Albeit against a bumbling Taranaki team who seemed incapable of holding on to the ball, the Stags were efficient on defence - except when trying to tackle Isaia Tuifua - and confident with the ball.
They put together two good tries, Matt Saunders running on to an excellent offload by Tim Cornforth and Tayler Adams reaching out after a dart down the blindside from an excellent platform set by the forwards from a 5m lineout.
The 15-6 lead at halftime held some promise but it evaporated in the first five minutes after the break as Taranaki scored 10 points, including a soft try to Frazier Climo when Alex Ryan threw a daft pass off the ground to no-one. Forty minutes of hard grind was undone in the time it takes to make a decent cup of coffee.
Another embarrassing mistake - Jayden Hayward finding a massive gap from a lineout on halfway - paved the way for an awful final 20 minutes where the Stags' defence was back to their worst and Taranaki ran in three more tries.
Wing Climo ended the game with a 27-point haul.
Tim Boys, Elliot Dixon and Josh Bekhuis had massive workrates in the Southland forward effort, while Cornforth was electric at times and Matt Saunders was a workaholic in the midfield, but individual errors elsewhere were exposed brutally.
Chris King led a Taranaki scrum which threatened to turn Southland inside out before the Stags found a way to combat him.
Taranaki, on the rebound after losing the Ranfurly Shield midweek, looked a bit stunned that their hosts were being so generous in the second half.
It was no way to celebrate Mark Wells' 50th game for Southland, while at the other end of the spectrum halfback Adams got a second start after Nemia Kenatale was ruled out pre-game by injury and Marist midfielder Keanu Kahukura made his debut off the bench.
The news could yet get worse for the Stags, with skipper Jamie Mackintosh in some discomfort after the game with a rib injury.
Meanwhile, Manawatu beat Hawke's Bay 20-7; championship frontrunners Counties Manukau were beaten 32-28 by Waikato in a cross-over game and Otago lost 49-22 to Wellington. Auckland continued neighbour North Harbour's winless run yesterday with a 36-16 win on the North Shore.
Taranaki 47 (Frazier Climo, Jayden Hayward, James Marshall 2, Jackson Ormond tries; Climo 4 pen, 5 con) Southland 18 (Matt Saunders, Tayler Adams tries; Scott Eade 2 pen, con). Halftime: 15-6.
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