Stags ring changes

Dale MacLeod. PHOTO: Debbie Fahey
Dale MacLeod. PHOTO: Debbie Fahey
Southland has reverted to a more familiar starting line-up for its match against Manawatu in Feilding tomorrow.

The Stags were well-beaten by Tasman last weekend, and coach Dale MacLeod has gone back to some of the players who have served so well during the campaign.

But he has also had to dig deep, and the bench has a some fresh faces.

"We’ve had a week from hell to be fair," MacLeod said.

"We had players ruled out with concussion, players ruled out at training today and we’ve been scrambling."

Fullback Rory van Vugt has been sidelined with a concussion, so Southland B player Matthew McKenzie will be making his debut for Southland.

The Stags have also named four debutants in the reserves.

Nathan Va’atausili will provide cover for the loose forwards, while lock Joe Robins gets an opportunity in the absence of Ray Tatafu, who also picked up a concussion. Midfielder Brad Armstrong also gets an opportunity to suit up, and a late change also added Invercargill Blues’ Brad Kooman to the bench.

The entire front row has been replaced, so Ethan De Groot, Greg Pleasants-Tate and Siate Tokolahi return for what shapes as a crucial game.

The No 1 loose forward trio of Charles Alaimalo, Matthew James and Tony Lamborn reunite, and hardworking lock Mike McKee returns to bolster a very decent forward pack.

James and Lamborn have snaffled more than their share of turnovers at the breakdown and have also helped lead an impressive defensive effort.

That was dented by Tasman, who put close to 50 points on the Stags in Nelson on Sunday.

But that has been the only blowout, and Southland still boasts the best defensive record in the competition.

There are three changes in the backs too.

Halfback Logan Crowley replaces Liam Howley in the starting side and first five-eighth Scott Eade nabs his spot back in the run-on team.

Greg Dyer is on baby watch and will miss the game.

The Stags are still in contention for a playoff spot, despite damaging losses to Taranaki and Northland.

They are in fifth place on 11 points with three round-robin games remaining.

Taranaki (15 points) looks to have a comfortable run into the playoffs. But Northland (18 points) has to play North Harbour, Auckland and Waikato.

It has been 37 years since Manawatu played a first class fixture in Feilding. That game was against Wanganui at Johnston Park in 1983.

The Manawatu team featured players such as Gary Knight and Mark Donaldson, and won 22-13.

The Manawatu team for tomorrow’s fixture was unavailable yesterday.

Southland v Manawatu

Feilding, tomorrow, 2.05pm
Southland: Matthew McKenzie,  Isaac 
Te Tamaki, Jaye Thomson, Raymond 
Nu’u, Kieran Lee, Scott Eade, Logan 
Crowley, Tony Lamborn, Matthew 
James, Charles Alaimalo,  Mike McKee, 
Craig Smith, Siate Tokolahi, Greg 
Pleasants-Tate,  Ethan De Groot. 
Reserves: Sabastian Siataga, Joseph 
Walsh, Chris Apoua, Joe Robins, 
Nathan Va’atausili, Liam Howley, Brad 
Armstrong, Brad Kooman.

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