Poor execution killing Stags
Stags coach David Henderson says the pressure is on some of his senior players to perform after Saturday night's 15-14 loss to Taranaki, but he believes the game's officials need to be held accountable as well.
Southland stumbled their way to a third straight loss at Rugby Park, in what is becoming a mirror image of their 2012 start, when they lost their first four games on the bounce.
It was probably the Stags' best game of the three losses, but they missed a golden opportunity to claim a championship scalp against the amber-and-blacks with some below-par handling when they had the visitors under pressure.
"Our fundamental skills let us down in the second half, guys holding on to the ball in contact and so forth, but it's disappointing. Each week we've played a bit better, but we aren't getting the result," Henderson said.
"We've got to look at ourselves . . . we've got guys who have played a lot of rugby, who are losing the ball into contact and it's costing us dearly at that end of the paddock."
Perhaps the most glaring example was the dropped ball by Robbie Robinson as he tried to run the ball out of his 22m.
After appearing to beat the defender, he then lost the ball cold and impressive Taranaki midfielder Isaia Tuifua, who had been in doubt before the game with the flu, picked it up and ran unopposed to the line for a vital score.
While there was nothing heavenly about this mistake-ridden crossover game, the rugby gods must have decided to even things up just a minute later.
From the next kickoff, Taranaki replacement Seta Tamanivula and Chris Smylie collided as they tried to field the kick, and the ball bounced free for Tim Cornforth to score for Southland.
Taranaki's first-half try by Jackson Ormond had an element of doubt after it looked as though the Southland feed to the scrum had come directly out of the same channel.
The visitors grabbed the ball and spun it wide for Ormond to score in the corner.
Referee Shane McDermott opted to go upstairs to check the grounding but made no mention of the scrum, which had started the move.
"It's really annoying when we go behind when a ball doesn't even go into the scrum," Henderson said.
"These calls are starting to get really annoying in regard to things like that. I think we've had some hard calls over the past few weeks and there's another one.
"To me, there's got to be accountability for some of these guys that have got the whistles."
Teams playing without luck rarely get the tight refereeing calls but, to be fair, Southland had received one earlier in the half when Shane Cleaver was denied a try following an obstruction ruling from TMO Mike Bowman.
While Scott Eade had an off night with the boot after taking a knock on his leg in the opening minutes, Taranaki goalkicker Andre Taylor also struggled initially and could have had the visitors up 9-0 after half an hour on a better night.
Marty McKenzie had a chance to put Southland in the lead for the first time with six minutes to go, but his penalty from near the sideline veered to the left of the posts.
Henderson said the senior Southland players who were struggling to produce their best would not need to be told.
"I won't have to say anything to them; they'll know that themselves, but it definitely will be talked about."
The Stags have a relatively short turnaround before Friday's crossover game against Waikato on Friday night.
If Taranaki, winless before coming to Invercargill, were desperate on Saturday night, Waikato will be in a similar frame of mind after losing the Ranfurly Shield to Otago and then getting walloped 47-10 by Canterbury on Thursday night.
Taranaki 15 (Jackson Ormond, Isaia Tuifua tries; Andre Taylor pen, con), Southland 14 (Tim Cornforth try; Scott Eade 2, Marty McKenzie pen). HT: 8-3.
The Southland Times