Stags lick wounds of first-up loss
A first-up loss at home is a tough pill to swallow but Southland rugby's biggest problem this week might be a more welcome headache.
Chiefs fullback Robbie Robinson is set to return to the Stags in time for their second-round game against Northland in Whangarei on Saturday.
Robinson, who scored a vital try for the Chiefs in the Super Rugby final against the Brumbies, was in the Southland coaching box during Saturday night's 25-15 loss to Tasman and coach David Henderson has been pondering where Robinson will lineup for the Stags this weekend.
Robinson is a fullback capable of playing at first-five but the Stags already have good young players in those positions, with Marty McKenzie returning from his rookie season with the Blues and Scott Eade landing all five of his kicks at goal against the Makos.
Meanwhile, Southland captain Jamie Mackintosh believes it is important not to read too much into the loss to the Makos.
"I think in that first half they threw a lot us. I knew they would play like that, and they played with width and speed and we showed a bit of ticker to only be down 14-6."
Having been part of a painful Highlanders' campaign this season, Mackintosh is aware of what happens to teams who fall into ruts.
"When you look ahead, you don't want to get caught up in it. Like Super Rugby, it's a long competition and every game is going to be hard," he said.
"That's why it's really disappointing not to get a win first up. We talk about it all the time; you have a win and it gives you that belief in what you are doing. When you lose, you over-analyse things and wonder why you aren't winning. It makes for the week to be pretty hard," he said.
"I would have been concerned if we hadn't fired a shot. In the second half we did and we showed a little bit of what we can do. We played with the ball really nicely and had some nice stuff from set-pieces to put them under pressure."
Henderson said Tasman had put Southland under a lot of pressure.
"They are a good side, they always start the season well, and they were probably unlucky not to score more in the first half and we were unlucky not to finish off some of our opportunities," Henderson said.
The Stags scrum struggled to counter some of the angles the Tasman pack were using but the most glaring issue was probably some of the first-up defence.
Tasman's big ball runners were able to run through and over the Southland line when they got quick ruck ball, which was often.
Henderson said the Stags had talked about the height of their tackles in the leadup to the game but they were not effective in that area, particularly against the big Tasman midfield of Andy Symons and Kieron Fonotia.
"There's a lot of learnings and we'll go onwards and upwards from here."
There were highlights that the Stags will try and develop.
There was a neat half-break and offload by Cardiff Vaega, a couple of line-breaks from Bryan Milne, and Keanu Kahukura's second-half raid which could have netted what might have been a momentum changing try.
The quarter hour after halftime offered promise of what the Stags can produce this season.
David Hall was industrious in the tight for Southland, while Michael Fatialofa carried the ball strongly.
Henderson had concerns about Tasman's propensity for blowing past the ball at rucks and holding on to players at the breakdown, something he intended to raise with officials.
Tasman assistant coach Leon MacDonald said the Makos would take plenty from the win. "Wins in Southland are always hard-earned and I suppose we weren't really sure where we were at coming into the game."
AT A GLANCE
Tasman 25 (James Lowe 2 tries; Andy Symons 2 pen, Billy Guyton 3 pen), Southland 15 (Scott Eade 5 pen). Halftime: 14-6.
The Southland Times