Southland Stags' travel plans hit turbulence

NATHAN BURDON
Last updated 05:00 20/10/2012

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The Southland Stags will hope their disrupted flight plans are not a harbinger for this afternoon's NPC championship semifinal in Pukekohe.

The long weekend and the world series triathlon event in Auckland had already put pressure on seats and forced the Stags to take two seperate flights to Christchurch yesterday.

That wouldn't normally be an issue.

But with an inbound plane having a mechanical issue that meant it landed with only one engine, only about a third of the Stags touring party made it to Christchurch on time, with the rest having to bus to Queenstown and catch an alternative flight, which wasn't expected to have them in Auckland until 7pm last night.

Not exactly the ideal preparation for the biggest game of the season, but something Stags coach David Henderson said was beyond their control.

"You've just got to get on with it," he said.

And that's just what the Stags have to do this afternoon.

They've been given a chance to redeem a season that has lurched along, but they will have to be very good to make the most of that opportunity.

In the opening round of the competition, the Steelers simply steamrolled their way over the Stags' defence for a 30-9 win.

At times it was like men against boys as the Tana Umaga-coached side offloaded at will.

Henderson is not planning on a repeat.

"It's nice to have a full week to plan.

"We've covered off all the areas that we felt were work ons from the past couple of weeks and came up with a game plan to get us over the line against Counties," Henderson said.

"Defence is all about attitude and I guess one of the issues we've had is guys making too many mistakes in the defensive line.

"They are getting a bit fatigued and not pulling their weight in certain areas and it's cost us dearly this season."

Henderson said the decision to drop Alex Ryan from the squad completelywas made after reviewing his performances in recent weeks and was based on today's game plan.

He also said Fijian halfback Nemia Kenatale, who has been struggling with a hamstring injury, would be on the bench today.

It is understood there has been some frustration around the issue, with concerns Kenatale was looking beyond the Stags campaign. Fiji have a northern tour to end the year, with tests against Russia, England and Georgia.

The assertion that the Steelers could almost be a semifinals team in the premiership is hard to quantify.

In their four cross-over games they lost three times, including going down to a Hawke's Bay team that is set to be relegated back to the championship.

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Balanced against that is the fact Counties got within an unconverted try of Auckland and Waikato.

The impression that they have rampaged their way through the championship is a false one.

At one point the Steelers lost three games in a row and they had to beat Northland in the final round to secure the top ranking - 10 bonus points from 10 games helped to give them top billing. The Steelers can be beaten.

"They are a team of confidence and in the right mood there's no doubt they are dangerous," Henderson said.

In the premiership semifinals, an injury-struck Taranaki team will try to upset top qualifiers Canterbury in Christchurch from 4.35pm today. Wellington host Auckland from 7.05pm.

- The Southland Times

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