Black (and red) day for Southland Stags
The Stags have seven days to put the lowest point of their rugby careers behind them and regather some pride against Taranaki in Invercargill on Sunday.
Southland don't deserve to be in semifinal contention after yesterday's showing, where they leaked 12 tries in an 84-0 hiding at the hands of Canterbury.
It was the worst loss for Southland since the Stags were beaten 95-7 by Waikato in Hamilton in 1998.
No team that gives up 12 tries in 80 minutes and finds itself 49-0 down at halftime should have the right to be talking about playoffs.
But, given the format of the national provincial championship competition, where bizarrely four of the seven teams get the chance to make the playoffs, Southland still remain a chance with a five loss-three win record.
Only a spot in the playoffs and a successful late-season rally will go any way towards putting yesterday's limp performance behind them.
Whatever way you look at it and however hard you try to sugar-coat this one, it was one of Southland rugby's darkest days.
These players would never have pictured themselves on the receiving end of this onslaught, which started in the 11th minute with a try by halfback Willie Heinz and finished 12 tries later, in the 79th minute, when George Whitelock dotted down. In between those tries was a series of defensive errors by the Stags and, in the limited time they had the ball to play with, they looked clueless.
At the start of the season, opposition teams went wide early against the Stags and with little momentum were able to find holes at will. Those frailties looked to have been somewhat patched up in Southland's recent three-game winning streak but yesterday they resurfaced in alarming fashion and the powerful Canterbury lineup pounced.
Southland had line speed and structure to their defence in the first 10 minutes but after that it resembled something out of a Charlie Chaplin movie, with them running around with no idea.
It has to be acknowledged that Southland looked tired, probably not surprising, given it was their third game in nine days, while Canterbury sat at home waiting for them after a seven-day break.
While not one of the players or management will condone what they delivered in Christchurch yesterday, that short turnaround had to have bitten them.
Southland now must respond against Taranaki and then Manawatu in the final round, not just to keep their playoff hopes alive but, more importantly, to regain some pride in the maroon jersey.
The Southland wall that opposition teams have struggled to break through in recent years has crumbled and they have seven days to rebuild it.
- The Southland Times