Let's talk about last night: 5 talking points from the Stags' season opener
The SIT Zero Fees Southland Stags opened their 2019 Mitre 10 Cup at home against Northland last night.
They led 10-6 at halftime, but ended up losing 27-17 for their 22nd loss in a row. That’s the bad news, here’s something a bit more positive.
Welcome back Marty McKenzie: It had been six years since Marty McKenzie last pulled on a Stags jersey in anger. I think he’s been up north somewhere. It’s great to have you back Marty. Reprising the role that James Wilson so ably filled last year of the seasoned pro capable of steering the ship, McKenzie will be a massive asset for the Stags in 2019. It didn’t hurt either that he had a very tidy halfback in Logan Crowley operating on his inside. Those were tough conditions for a halfback, with a greasy ball and plenty of forwards hammering away on the inside, but his passing was generally good and that left foot produced some telling blows.
I know you are going to point straight to the two tries that Northland scored after halftime, but on the remainder of last night’s evidence, this team can (and wants to) defend). They certainly did for most of the first half when they spent so long camped on their own 10m line that they could have created a new sponsorship agreement with Macpac. Defence speaks to so many things - organisation, communication, trust, belief and work ethic among them - and there were some hearty signs during those tough times. It’s also one thing to defend for such a long time, and another thing entirely to be awake and alive to the opportunity to rebound and score from any opportunity which presents itself, which the Stags did through Isaac Te Tamaki.
Which brings us to the next point. The Stags have got some gas in 2019. We already knew how fast and elusive Te Tamaki was, but Josh Moorby’s finishing from fullback also had the crowd on its feet. Speed has been a rare commodity for Southland in recent years, so it’s great to see players tearing away in a maroon jersey.
On last night’s admittedly small sample size, this looks a better team than last year. But there is also room for growth. That was on display after halftime where the Stags just seemed to lack the edge which had sustained them while they spent so long on the wrong side of the ball during the first half. Despite all the coaching cliches, no rugby team in the world is capable of holding their concentration for a full 80 minutes, you just have to limit those lapses and hope the opposition don’t punish you too badly when they do happen. The All Blacks found that out in the dying minutes against the Springboks a fortnight ago. Allow one try in during those periods, sure, but having two quick tries scored against you will generally mean defeat, and it did for the Stags. They’ll learn from that.
Finally, can the Stags win a Ranfurly Shield challenge against Otago next weekend? You wouldn’t imagine Otago will be anxious, but they will be wary. Southland’s defence in their own quarter (for the most part) and the breakout abilities of Te Tamaki and Moorby are game-winning assets. The Stags - both teams actually - looked to be playing within themselves last night, not surprising given it was the first game of the season and the conditions weren’t optimal. The Stags will be better next week, but Otago will obviously lift for their first defence of the season. Let’s hope the Stags players see this for what it is, one of those rare opportunities which come up in life where you get the chance to do something truly special.
Parting shots: It was a nice touch by Rugby Southland to acknowledge the support shown over the years by super fan Lindsay Beer and his wife Bronwyn, and how good was it to have Phil Halder back?