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Next two weeks may decide fate of Stags

NATHAN BURDON
Last updated 05:00 09/09/2013

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Southland's national provincial championship semifinal hopes will be decided by a 10-day stretch that includes three games and a North Island tour.

Friday night's 20-16 win over premiership side Waikato was the tonic the Stags needed after three straight losses, but it will count for little if Southland don't continue to unleash their potential through the hardest part of their campaign.

That begins against fellow championship team Manawatu in Palmerston North on Friday night.

The Stags will continue on to Tauranga, rather than come home, to prepare for next Wednesday's game against premiership team Bay of Plenty at Mt Maunganui.

Southland's homecoming on Sunday week could well coincide with celebrations for skipper Jamie Mackintosh, who is on scheduled to play his 100th game for the province, against North Harbour.

Stags coach David Henderson acknowledged it was a tough schedule, especially for a union that traditionally travels about as well as seafood.

"We've planned for that," Henderson said on Friday night.

"Quite a few of our reserves, depending on injuries with the guys who started, will be playing [on Saturday for Southland Metro] to get some game time because we will have to use them over those three games."

Staying in the North Island, rather than trying to fit a trip home into a five-day turnaround was not just about limiting the travel factor, Henderson said.

"It just makes sense, financially too, for the New Zealand Rugby Union and Air New Zealand. We are heading through to Tauranga and staying there."

Although Hawke's Bay and Tasman are the competition pacesetters in the NPC championship this season, Southland will not have given up on challenging for one of those top two spots, and the home semifinal that comes with it.

More likely, however, the Stags will be in a battle with Otago, Northland and Harbour for one of the other two playoff spots.

Henderson confirmed the next two weeks will likely decide Southland's fate for 2013.

"Three big games and, if we can get two or three of those, we are well on our way again."

Henderson said fullback Robbie Robinson would probably be available to front up against Manawatu on Friday night.

Robinson left the field with a hip injury in the second half against Waikato but it was determined as bruising and nothing more serious.

He was still sore on Saturday but would probably shake it off in time for Friday night's game.

The rest of the Stags players pulled up fine and there were no major injury concerns.

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- The Southland Times

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