Two crucial games today will determine Southland's fate in this year's Toro Interprovincial, after the team went down narrowly to a strong Manawatu-Wanganui outfit at Balmacewen yesterday.
The Southland team, which includes Tyler McLean, Scott Hellier, Liam Balneaves, Jeremy Hall and Matt Tautari, went into yesterday's play unbeaten, with three wins from as many matches.
Manawatu-Wanganui was always going to prove a challenge, spearheaded by one of New Zealand's top amateurs in Josh Munn, but the southerners performed respectably, losing narrowly 3-2.
Hellier paved the way for Southland with a 5-4 win over Lachie McDonald, continuing a brilliant run of form this week, while Tautari returned to his winning ways to beat Hayden Ring 2-1.
Balneaves lost to Trent Munn 4-2 and Hall lost 3-1 to Junior Tatana.
McLean, playing at No 1, had a very tight game against Munn and it was all square after 15 holes.
Munn, though, birdied the 17th to take the win 1-up and hand Manawatu-Wanganui the win.
Southland manager Cody Harper said it was a tough match, but the team could take a lot of positives from it despite the loss.
"Scotty was once again magnificent, he's made his games pretty relaxing for me to watch, and Matt got back to have another win, we just couldn't get it home," Harper said.
"It was tight and it could have gone either way.
"The boys battled well and I think, on paper, Manawatu-Wanganui are one of the strongest teams here."
Southland will play Wellington then Auckland today in what is shaping as a crucial day's play if the team is to make tomorrow's semifinals.
"Knocking over Wellington and Auckland is going to be a big ask, but we'll just concentrate on Wellington first-up and see where we get ourselves," Harper said.
"It's all pretty open at the moment, I think there are about four teams in our division that are still in there and it's about the same on the other side, so anyone could go through."
Southland won last year's tournament for the first time.
Going into today's play they sit top of division one, with Manawatu-Wanganui, Auckland and Wellington.
Bay of Plenty is leading division two ahead of Otago, Tasman and Northland.
The semifinalists will be found after today's two rounds.
Round five: Man-Wang 3, Southland 2; Auckland 3, Wellington 2; Tasman 4, Poverty Bay EC 1; Bay of Plenty 3 , Otago 1 ; Hawkes Bay 3, Taranaki 2; Aorangi 3, Waikato 2; Northland 3 , Canterbury 1. --------------------
- The Southland Times