Stags on mat after loss

James Wilson, of Southland, makes a break during the round four Mitre 10 Cup match between...
James Wilson, of Southland, makes a break during the round four Mitre 10 Cup match between Southland and Counties Manukau at Rugby Park Stadium on Saturday in Invercargill. Photo: Getty Images
It took little time to figure out Southland Stags coach Dave Hewett’s mood on Saturday afternoon.

Southland had just been beaten 43-26 by Counties Manukau at Rugby Park in Invercargill and Hewett cut a frustrated figure when asked to assess the performance.

Some Stags faithful departed Rugby Park buoyed by the fact that for large periods Southland was in the contest. There were also some nods of approval in regard to the four-try bonus point late in the fixture.

Hewett was not having a bar of it.

In fact, the first-year Stags coach had to check himself at times to ensure the language he used was fit for publication.

In a frank assessment, Hewett said the Stags were not fit enough at the moment and also needed to be mentally tougher to win games at Mitre 10 Cup level.

After leading 14-0 early in the first half, Southland gave up 40 unanswered points to trail 40-14 before eventually losing 43-26.

"I’m actually more disappointed with this performance than any other, and the reason for that is we didn’t take the opportunities," Hewett said.

"We left three tries on the field that should have been scored in the first half. We must have decided we had won the game because we were up 14-0. We took our foot off the throat and the result is we lost.

Stags supporters watch the match. Photo: Getty Images
Stags supporters watch the match. Photo: Getty Images
"We haven’t got a star-studded team, but we’ve got a team that can do the job. But the frustrating thing is we fade in and out of being engaged in the game."

In all four games to date this season, Southland has been guilty of coming up with a 15 to 25-minute period where it has all come unstuck defensively.

Asked why the same problem was surfacing week to week, Hewett said fitness was part of it.

"We’ve got to work on our fitness. It’s hard to work on it in season. We’ve got to work on it out of the season. So there will be more work expected of the players come the club season.

"I think probably the mental toughness of the players to stay engaged for longer periods is a skill that has to be developed.

"They need to be concentrating all the time, not just in patches, because it is those patches that we get compromised."

The latest loss to Counties pushes Southland’s Mitre 10 Cup run to 15 straight losses.

The next opportunity for the Stags to end the  drought will be on Saturday in the showdown with neighbour Otago in Invercargill.

As well as Hewett’s head-scratching over his players’ performance, it appears he has some more injury concerns to deal with.

Forwards Andrew Ready and Wade McRae were both forced from the field in the first half on Saturday.

McRae left the field for a head knock assessment but it is believed  it actually was a neck problem, while Ready has a knee injury.

Second five-eighth Ray Nu’u also picked up a leg injury in the last minute of the game.

• In other games, Hawke’s Bay beat Bay of Plenty 29-29, Wellington beat North Harbour 35-23 and Waikato beat Taranaki 33-14 to claim the Ranfurly Shield. 

- Logan Savory


Mitre 10 Cup
The scores

Counties Manukau     43

Fotu Lokotui, Luteru Laulala,Te Aihe Toma, Nigel Ah Wong, Joe Royal, Cardiff Vaega tries; Latiume Fosita 4 con, Luteru Laulala con, pen)

Southland     26

Bill Fukofuka, Morgan Mitchell, Lewis Ormond, Nico Costatries tries; James Wilson 3 con

Halftime: 19-14 C-Manukau

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