Stags' title race exit pales into insignificance
The Southland Stags' exit from the 2012 national provincial title race was put into perspective late on Saturday afternoon when the players were advised soon after fulltime that team-mate Hoani Macdonald was battling for his life.
After a spirited 30-odd minutes of rugby from Southland, Counties Manukau pulled away in the semifinal on Saturday to win 48-23.
But the disappointment of having their season come to an end became insignificant as news filtered in that Macdonald had been taken to hospital after suffering a heart attack.
The wash-up and finger-pointing at Rugby Southland HQ over what went wrong this season, and what positives can be taken out of the 2012 campaign, will wait, as the focus remains on Macdonald and his young family.
Southland had played some of their better rugby in the first half of the showdown against Counties as they raced out to a 20-6 lead on the back of tries to Tayler Adams and Marty McKenzie.
The tactics were to play for territory against Counties, and Southland had done just that as they racked up a 68 per cent territory advantage in the first 40 minutes.
However, a Sherwin Stowers try on the stroke of halftime bridged the gap to 20-11.
Inside the first couple of minutes of the second half, Counties were in again through second five-eighth Bundee Aki, and the hard work Southland had done in the first half was coming undone.
They went from 20-6 up to lead 20-16 in three minutes.
Steelers first five-eighth Baden Kerr slotted a penalty minutes later to close the gap to one point, and Counties were going home with a wet sail.
Scott Eade grabbed a penalty back for Southland and, in the 68th minute, had the chance to push his team out further with a handy penalty attempt, but the usually accurate goal-kicker brushed the outside of the upright.
From there, Counties worked their way downfield and scored through Ray Lee-Lo.
At 23-22 up, Eade had the chance to put Southland 26-22 up but they actually found themselves 27-23 down. The final 10 minutes of this semifinal was all Counties as they flicked the switch to propel themselves to the championship final.
Counties scored four tries in the final 10 minutes, showcasing all their attacking skills, to win 48-23.
Counties will now play Otago in the second-tier championship final in Pukekohe on Friday night after Otago beat Tasman 41-34 in the first semifinal.
It will be a Canterbury-Auckland final in the premiership division, after Canterbury beat Taranaki 51-27 in overtime and Auckland beat Wellington 33-22.
- © Fairfax NZ News