Big setback for South Canterbury
South Canterbury's rollercoaster ride in the Heartland Championship continued with an upset loss to West Coast 12-19 on Saturday.
A day earlier South Canterbury got an off-field reprieve when they were docked only two championship points by the New Zealand Rugby Union for fielding an ineligible player in three games.
So a win over West Coast in Greymouth would have seen them back in Meads Cup contention and with a chance of a home semifinal.
However, with their destiny in their own hands South Canterbury fell short against a side which had won only one previous game.
The conditions were tough with a rain-soaked field and a howling gale but in the second half with the wind at their backs South Canterbury blew it tactically.
West Coast's 13-7 halftime lead seemed well short of what they would need but at times it seemed South Canterbury were so desperate for a four-try bonus point that they forgot about field position.
The backline appeared somewhat lost without the guidance of midfielder Fa'aitu Tuamoheloa.
West Coast deserve plenty of credit. Despite lacking any real stars every one of their players, from No 1 through to No 15, played their hearts out.
The result leaves South Canterbury tied for fifth with North Otago, one point behind fourth-placed Buller.
Had South Canterbury won, they would have sat third, with some breathing space going into this Saturday's final round robin game.
Instead, they now have to beat Mid Canterbury and then hope West Coast can deliver a second knockout blow to neighbours Buller to have a chance of qualifying for the top tier Meads Cup.
Otherwise it is another season chasing the Lochore Cup for sides placed fifth to eighth, after looking so good midway through the competition.
South Canterbury coach Chester Scott said he was gutted by the result but stood behind his team.
"On the day they were too good for us and adjusted to the conditions a lot better," he said.
"We struggled to get any momentum and took the wrong options a few times."
Scott said with 20 minutes to go he felt his side were still capable of easily winning.
"I guess the roll of the dice didn't go our way and in rugby sometimes those decisions swing momentum."
Scott said lock Stefan Vos played well, first-five Rick McKenna tried hard to get his side going and No 7 Eric Smith played his usual strong game.
"Matt [Fetu] played well again and Steve Burt at centre had another solid game."
South Canterbury's try scorers were fullback Jared Trevathan and wing Liam Edwards, who also landed a conversion.
In other games on Saturday, Whanganui were comfortable 39-12 winners over Buller to stay top of the table, one point clear of East Coast, a side South Canterbury beat comfortably.
North Otago supplied the upset of the round by beating Wairarapa Bush 28-21 in Masterton while Thames Valley thrashed Poverty Bay 56-29 and East Coast also cracked a half-century of points in winning 56-24 over Poverty Bay.
West Coast 19 (Brad Houston try; Phil Thomson pen; Sean McClure con, 3 pen) South Canterbury 12 (Jared Trevathan, Liam Edwards tries; Edwards con). HT: 13-7
The Timaru Herald