Former Stag Jackson plots old side's downfall
One of Southland's greats from the modern era will be plotting the Stags' downfall when they line up in a national provincial championship semifinal against Counties-Manukau in Pukekohe tomorrow.
Steelers assistant coach Steve Jackson played 73 games for Southland from 1998 till 2003 and captained the team as it battled to win credibility as a first division side.
Since transferring to North Harbour as a player in 2004, Jackson has spent time coaching under Todd Blackadder at Tasman, before working with Counties head coach Tana Umaga to turn the south Auckland union into a favourite to win the championship and earn promotion to the premiership for next season.
Jackson said despite the Steelers' runaway campaign, he hoped there would be no complacency going into tomorrow's sudden-death game.
"We obviously had a bit of a down patch during the season when we lost three on the trot. We let ourselves get complacent, especially in the Waikato and Tasman games. That first 60 minutes of that Northland game is where we want to be," Jackson said.
"We're really happy with the way things have gone but the boys understand that they've still got a job to do. Where we are now is pleasing, but the whole season revolves around this game, this week. We've built a style of play around the players that we've got, and so far it's working for us.
"Southland have always been strong in the forwards and if they can get some dominance up front, they've still got players like Marty McKenzie who are strong attacking players, and some old heads in the midfield with Matt Saunders."
Jackson, who lives on Waiheke Island and enjoys the ferry ride and short commute on the motorway to trainings, plans to develop a career in coaching, and he believes he is learning from one of the best in Umaga.
"I'm happy learning off Tana. I obviously learnt a little bit from Todd Blackadder when I was with Tasman, but Tana's a great coach. A lot of people come out of playing rugby and into coaching and they struggle, but I can honestly say he knows his stuff and he comes across well. Coaching is a big thing . . . and I'll have an opportunity down the track. I think I'm a better coach than I was a player so, hopefully, I can kick on with that."
Jackson remembers his time in Southland fondly.
He came south with incoming coach Bob Telfer in 1998 and says players Brendon Timmins and Mark Tinnock also played a part in his development, but it was Leicester Rutledge - who succeeded Telfer as Stags coach - who made the most lasting impact on his career.
"My whole rugby career kicked off in Southland after a couple of games for Auckland. I put a lot of the person I am today and the way I coach down to a lot of stuff I learnt in Southland. I was fortunate to be involved with a lot of good people down there and after 70-odd games down there it's just a little bit unfortunate that I couldn't kick on," he said.
"(Rutledge) put it to me that I was struggling to make the side and I needed to look at my attitude. That's the hard-nosed approach that I like to bring to my coaching as well - it's about having fun, but I like guys that are mentally tough, and Leicester is a big part of that."
Meanwhile, Scott McKee and Hoani Macdonald have come into the Stags forward pack, and Kade Poki back on the right wing in the only changes to the team that beat Manawatu.
McKee comes in for an injured Alex Taylor, while Poki returns from injury to push Mark Wells to the bench. Alex Ryan has, surprisingly, been dropped from the team entirely, with Macdonald starting and Michael Fatialofa on the bench. Junior Ngaluafe is also back from injury and has been named on the bench. The Steelers will name their team today.
Stags centurion Jimmy Cowan will make his first start for Gloucester in their Challenge Cup clash against Bordeaux-Begles this week. The halfback will replace Dave Lewis as one of eight changes after last week's 11-6 win over Mont-de-Marsan.
Southland's James Wilson scored his first two tries playing at fullback for Northampton as they made it five wins out of five to move to the top of the English Premiership.
- © Fairfax NZ News