The Premiers lost 15-8 to 3rd placed Taieri on Saturday in good playing conditions at Peter Johnstone Park. It is only the sides 2nd loss of the season. It was a tight tussle throughout, with Southern scoring the only try of the match. However the referee had a big influence on the game and awarded a number of penalties against the Magpies that Josh Casey kicked 5 penalty goals from.
Defence from both teams was the story of the day. Both teams struggled to break the line, and when they did the cover defence made the crucial tackle. Some individual skill from left wing Eroni Sotutu led to the only try in the first half when he beat his man in limited space, then swerved inside the fullback to dot down.
The Southern team were frustrated throughout the match with the refereeing calls, and while they must look at their own discipline at the breakdown, some inconsistent rulings left many players and supporters confused. The last penalty kick to take the score out to 15-8 was for questioning of the referee. While this is against the rules, to award this type of penalty when the game was in the balance with 10 minutes to go was a big call.
Taieri probably deserved their win, but the Magpies know they can lift another level on the form they have shown during the season. They need to remove a shackle or two they have played with in the last 2 weeks and start moving the ball into space more and using their outside backs. This is only possible with quick possession and the forwards need to produce this platform more often.
Tai Walden was the best player on the field from both teams, and continues to show his growth after spending the season in the Highlanders wider training squad. His option taking was good and he ran great angles to continually test the defence. Ryan Thompson won good lineout ball and worked hard as did Mika Mafi, Cameron Keach and Adam Knight. It was good to see the touch of class by Sotutu, but he again went off with a leg injury and his body is not allowing him to fulfil his undoubted potential.
The team will welcome Josh Ioane and Ricky Riccitelli back who have been away at the U20 World Cup, and wing Josh Gordon should also be available to play Zingari this week. With only 2 games to go in the round it will be difficult to peg back Harbour who won again on Saturday. The Magpies play Harbour in the final round on the 11th July. It is looking very likely that the Magpies will face Taieri in the semi-final (2v3) on the 18th July.
In the other games Dunedin defeated Kaikorai 34-23, while University A smashed Zingari-Richmond 57-10.
Alhambra-Union was too strong for Green Island in the second spell, running out winners 49-21, and Harbour finished powerfully to overwhelm Pirates 42-5.