Stags coach embraces the challenge

Dave Hewett
Dave Hewett
Among the Southland Stags' swot for their crunch test tomorrow night, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has lumped the boys in maroon with two further head-scratching assignments.

It was confirmed yesterday All Black halfback TJ Perenara and flanker Ardie Savea had been released to start for the unbeaten Wellington against the winless Stags in round-three Mitre 10 Cup action in Wellington.

Stags coach Dave Hewett acknowledged the challenge in front of Southland and, just like last week against Tasman, he was embracing it.

''From our point of view, it's great. It means we are playing against the best people in the country in those positions, or very close to it,'' Hewett said.

''It's a hell of a challenge, no different to Tasman. The way you measure yourself is to test yourself against the best, so that is what the boys are looking forward to.

''They know [Wellington] will bring a different physicality to the game. Ardie Savea is into everything, and TJ is very good around the breakdown and getting rid of the ball, and he is a running threat.

''We are going to have to be on our game to keep those guys contained, let alone the other 13 running around out there.''

Despite the 45-24 loss to Tasman in the last outing, Hewett felt Southland had improved. The key was to improve again, he said.

''Coming from the level we started out at, we're happy with the progress. But we'd like to get a bit more consistency in our performance, so we don't have that 15 minutes of going to sleep, I guess you could call it.

''That is an education thing. Also, we know the fitness level of the guys. Next year there will be a focus on making sure they are fitter when they come into the season so we are not having to work on it as much, so we can do more skill work.

''We are making gains, which is pleasing.''

As well as a stacked Wellington team to deal with, Southland also has had a five-day turnaround between games to factor in.

''From a Sunday game to a Friday, you essentially lose two days, and you've travel as well,'' Hewett said.

''It is not easy. It is what it is because all teams deal with it. I'm not complaining about it at all; it's just not ideal.

''We've still got to get the work in, in order to get the performance we want.''

While Wellington announced its team, Southland will hold off until this afternoon before publicly confirming its 23 for the game.

Wellington: Wes Goosen, Ben Lam, Matt Proctor (c), Thomas Umaga-Jensen, MaloTuitama, Jackson Garden-Bachop, TJ Perenara, Teariki Ben-Nicholas, Ardie Savea, Vaea Fifita, Will Mangos, James Blackwell, Joel Hintz, Asafo Aumua, Tolu Fahamokioa.

Reserves: James O'Reilly, Xavier Numia, Kaliopasi Uluilakepa, GaluTaufale, Greg Foe, Carlos Price, TJ Va'a, Billy Proctor.

- By Logan Savory

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