Stags let themselves down against Hawke's Bay
The timing could barely have been worse for the Stags.
In front of a big crowd, on a perfect night for rugby, they let themselves down when there was so much at stake.
Stags coach David Henderson was finding it hard to fathom why his team would falter so badly in the 23-15 loss to Hawke's Bay at Rugby Park.
''We talked about mental toughness and delivering tonight and we didn't do that. We got beaten up in the contact area. When we did put it together we looked quite good, but guys just mentally weren't there,'' Henderson said.
''We let ourselves down here. It's very disappointing for our fans and as a team.''
Henderson was particularly upset with Southland's ball handling, with some almost inextricable drops in the dry, cool conditions.
In the end it was Zac Guildford, a forgotten man in terms of the All Blacks, whose speed proved the difference.
Guildford scored a try and set up another in the second half to help turn a two point halftime deficit into a 23-15 win and set up a likely home semifinal for the Magpies.
The Stags, who were unable to provide hooker David Hall with a win to celebrate his 100th game for the province, will now head to Pukekohe next week possibly needing to win a Ranfurly Shield challenge to book their place in the playoffs.
It was a game Southland fullback Robbie Robinson would probably rather forget, his hands letting him down twice in the first few minutes and his confidence appearing to dip as result, while Scott Eade could only land two kicks from five attempts.
Another top performance from Southland No 8 Elliot Dixon also went unrewarded.
The first half was marked by an odd incident where referee Richard Kelly went to the TMO to confirm whether Eade had landed a penalty from 40m and out in front.
Eade was adamant he'd been successful, and even though there was nothing conclusive from side-on replays, Kelly eventually agreed.
Hawke's Bay were denied a try when Guildford's final pass to Trinity Spooner-Neera was judged forward, while Southland had two or three chances but were unable to get enough numbers to the ruck when they had the Magpies stretched in their 22m.
Southland opted for a kick into the corner instead of an angled penalty kick in the final two minutes of the first half.
After Hawke's Bay were penalised again for pushing in the lineout, the Stags organised a lineout drive which saw John Hardie crash over to give Southland an 8-6 lead at the break.
Southland started the second half well and scored a second try through Willis Halaholo after a flat pass by McKenzie.
Unfortunately for the Stags, the also lost both their starting locks on either side of the try with both Michael Fatialofa (elbow) and Josh Bekhuis (knee) injured out of the game.
Hawke's Bay had one-point lead heading into the final half hour after a Guildford try which came of an Andrew Horrell pass which was just as flat as McKenzie's.
Guildford had been in the game throughout, and it was his receipt of an innocuous Southland midfield kick which saw West hare away for a game-breaking try which he converted from near the sideline.
Hawke's Bay 23 (Zac Guildford, Ihaia West tries, Ihaia West 3 pen, 2 con)
Southland 15 (John Hardie, Willis Halaholo tries; Scott Eade pen, con)
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