Stags' playoff hopes on the line

NATHAN BURDON
Last updated 05:00 21/09/2013
David Henderson
ROBYN EDIE/Fairfax NZ
COACHING HOPEFUL: David Henderson will reapply to be Southland Stags' coach.

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Southland's rugby season sits finely balanced heading into tomorrow's game against North Harbour.

A win and the Stags playoff hopes remain well and truly alive.

They may even begin to contemplate a late run to a home semifinal, something which would have been almost laughable following last Friday night's 27-17 loss to Manawatu in Palmerston North.

With 20 minutes to go against Bay of Plenty on Wednesday night, things weren't looking a lot better, but tries to Elliot Dixon and Marty McKenzie helped Southland to a come-from-behind win that saw them jump from last to third in the championship.

Tomorrow's game marks Southland's third in 10 days.

They are bruised and battered and half a dozen players sat out training yesterday, Stags coach David Henderson said.
"It would be fair to say that training has been pretty light but that's pretty normal with a short turnaround."

Bryan Milne, one of Southland's best contributors this season, has been bracketed on the right wing with Tim Cornforth, but is likely to play after bruising a hip against the Steamers.

If Cornforth does start, his place on the bench will be taken to Keanu Kahukura.

Harbour are a better team than the one which won one game last year and claimed the championship's wooden spoon.

A win and a draw has them only one point behind Southland, on the same number of points as Manawatu and Otago.

"To me they are a team that's very dangerous," Henderson said.

"They'll be coming for us, they'll believe we are a 'must beat' team, like most other teams and they'll want to get four points. They are in a similar position to us and they'll want to kick on. They will want to play rugby and they've got a backline to back that up."

All Black project Frances Saili leads an attacking backline which could threaten if it gets enough ball.

Playing his 99th game for Southland, captain Jamie Mackintosh will have an interesting afternoon against All Black prop Ben Afeaki.

The pair will be Chiefs team-mates next season.

With only four days to prepare for such an important game, Southland's performance would be determined by attitude, Henderson said.

"There's not a lot of time to change a heck of a lot, it's about trying to get that state of mind right."

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- The Southland Times

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