Simple mistakes cost South Canterbury a shot at the Meads Cup.
The side went down to Mid Canterbury 24-7 at Alpine Energy Stadium, meaning they missed the top four in the Heartland Championship again.
Instead South Canterbury will focus on retaining the Lochore Cup for sides placed fifth to eighth.
That, however, won’t be easy as they host North Otago first-up, a side they lost to a fortnight ago. Then they would be likely to face a trip to Te Kuiti, unless Wanganui can upset King Country.
Hopes were high this could be the ‘green and blacks’ year after starting the season so well.
South Canterbury had banked a maximum 15 points after three rounds to lead the Heartland Championships but then could only scrap together another six points in five weeks to belly flop out of contention.
The real bright spot was a convincing win over second placed Poverty Bay and that cohesion had to be repeated to knock over defending champions Mid Canterbury, a result that would have kept Mid Canterbury out of the top four.
South Canterbury delivered a strong scrum at Alpine Energy Stadium but had wobbles as they over-complicated the lineout.
Also they could not hang on to the ball when it mattered most and Mid Canterbury came through with a four tries to one victory.
The South Canterbury backline could not deliver any knockouts.
The sad statistic remains that despite the province’s size and healthy club competition South Canterbury has only made the Meads Cup semifinals once since it began in 2006, while between them neighbours Mid Canterbury and North Otago have featured regularly.
The Achilles heel remains the lack of ability to attract class loan players in key positions that make the big difference in the big games.
Mid Canterbury had Murray Williams at first five, Peni Manumanuniliwa outside him and Willie McGoon on the left wing and they all made telling contributions.
South Canterbury coach Chester Scott was succinct in his appraisal of his side immediately after the game.
“There were too many handling errors, about 17 – some under pressure, some not, and you can’t do that against a side like Mid Canterbury.
“We simply gave them the ball back.”
Scott said there was no point in putting pressure on the opposition just to give the ball back to them at the breakdown.
His side also proved slow learners at the breakdown giving away four first half penalties in that area and eight altogether in the first half, to Mid Canterbury’s three.
To their credit South Canterbury however remained in contention and got back to 12-7, 10 minutes into the second half when centre Paula Fifita got over from close range after playing halfback at a maul and then converted it.
Showing plenty of endeavour it looked like the halftime team talk may have done the trick.
Five minutes later however Mid Canterbury open side Gary Redmond, who was outstanding, gained a turnover at a tackle and they spread the ball wide for fellow loose forward Tevita Ula to score.
South Canterbury did not give up but again a couple of fumbles at crucial times cost them and right on fulltime Mid Canterbury mauled about 25m for hooker Jackson Dexton to score, with Williams adding the extras.
For South Canterbury front rowers Matt Fetu, Ben Hewitson and Timaru Tafa had the acid on their opposites in the scrum.
Lock Sione Tauelangi was a standout and made some big metres as tried to fire up his side while No 8 Kali Latu also made a couple of excellent runs.
In the backs, first five Kurt Rooney tried to vary the play and, had Fifita scooped up a clever grubber kick from him in the first half, South Canterbury may have been away.
Otherwise the backline was struggling for any momentum and the wings seldom saw the ball and when they did there was little space as Mid Canterbury’s defence was in their faces.
Scott will have to work hard to lift his charges for Saturday and nothing short of a win over North Otago will suffice.
STU PIDDINGTON – The Timaru Herald