Southland U19 may lose key player

Southland may well head into the national under-19 rugby tournament without key player Ethan de Groot, as a possible Stags call-up looms.

Southland leaves on Saturday for the national tournament in Taupo, and will play its opening game on Sunday against the third-placed Blues team, Northland.

Southland will also play games on Wednesday and Sunday in a demanding seven days of rugby.

Otago edged Southland in the South Island rankings when it handed Southland a 40-22 loss in a seeding fixture, played in stunning conditions at Rugby Park in Invercargill on Saturday.

It was the last of Southland’s three seeding games before the tournament, where it will contest the Michael Jones Cup, which is for the bottom eight teams at the 16-team tournament.

The Curtis Williams-captained Southland team earlier lost to Tasman 44-7 and was crushed by Canterbury 86-8 before the loss to Otago on Saturday.

Coach Daryl Thompson said despite the loss he did see improvement against Otago on Saturday.

"It was much improved on how we had been playing. We got some attack going and defensively it was more energetic."

Otago led 33-15 at halftime, before Southland showed more promise in the second half.

Halfback Jacob Carmichael scored 10 minutes into the second half to make it 33-22 and Southland looked to have scored again soon after, but wing Dom Sipa was deemed to have been held up over the line.

It was the work off the bench which provided the most obvious positive, with lock Ben Paulin and flanker Taine Te Whata making an impact.

Hooker Jake Henderson also had a strong game.

For Otago, No 8 Henry Bell carried the ball well in a dominant first half in particular.

Thompson will have to wait until later in the week before he can finalise the squad for the trip to Taupo.

The Stags have some injury problems, with prop Joe Walsh expected to be ruled out for the remainder of the season after dislocating his shoulder against Wellington.

Fellow loosehead prop Shaun Stodart also left the field on Friday night following a head knock, and will need to be assessed this week.

Morgan Mitchell missed the Wellington game, but would likely to come back into contention this week. If Stodart was ruled out, de Groot could come into the Stags selection frame.

Teams are able to carry two front rowers over the age of 19, which was why 20-year-old de Groot qualifies to play for Southland at the national tournament.

"It would be a massive loss for us," Thompson said about the prospect of de Groot getting a Stags call-up and missing the trip to Taupo.

- Logan Savory

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