Nightmare training week as Southland Stags’ halfback cupboard close to bare

The Southland Stags have had a nightmare training week losing three halfbacks to injury as the province’s playing depth comes under extreme pressure.

The Stags called in Invercargill Blues halfback Osika Kaufononga for its captain’s run on Friday and he’s now in line to make his National Provincial Championship debut from the bench against Wellington at Rugby Park on Saturday.

First-choice halfback Jahvis Wallace rolled an ankle at training on Tuesday, before Jakob Morrison suffered a head knock and failed an HIA test ruling him out of Saturday’s game.

Pirates-Old Boys youngster Josh Murrell was the next halfback in line but he has a shoulder injury which ruled him out of coming in for the Wellington game.

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Fortunately, Jay Renton passed a fitness on Tuesday which means he can start in the No 9 jersey.

Although Stags coach Dale MacLeod had to delve deep into Southland’s playing stocks for a reserve halfback.

Kaufononga was initially scheduled to line up for the Southland Rams rugby league team in Invercargill on Saturday but will instead play in a NPC game for the Stags against Wellington.

He has shown promise for Blues at club level in recent seasons, although with Renton also at the club Kaufononga played a lot at first five-eighth this year.

Southland will also be missing experienced first five-eighth Marty Banks for the Wellington clash with the Highlanders pivot unavailable because of family reasons.

The forward stocks have also been tested with a host of players either recovering from injury or are sidelined with the mandatory 12-day concussion protocols.

It has been decided hooker Flynn Thomas will miss the entire season as he works through concussion issues.

Looseforward Jordan Stewart was called into the squad to train with the Stags this week but has picked up a hamstring injury.

Props Joe Walsh, Niko Manaena and Shaun Stodart will also miss the Wellington game because of injury meaning Te Anau prop Kane Prentice is now in line for his debut off the bench.

MacLeod counted 16 players all up who were unavailable for Saturday’s game and that was before the team hit its storm week next week where it will play three games in nine days.

“It’s very frustrating because you can not control any of this. It’s part of the territory though, we’ve just got to get on with it.

“We haven’t got depth and that’s the harsh reality of it, every year we’ve used between 42 and 48 players since I’ve been, that’s the attrition rate. We can’t afford to be losing too many more. “

MacLeod was not a fan of the “storm week” concept to get the competition finished earlier given it lumps even further pressure on playing resources.

“[New Zealand Rugby] brought it in because they want to take that New Zealand A team away, but what it does is put a strain on some unions. Manawatu is a prime example of that, they had their storm week in week one and have really surfaced from that.

“It is what it is, the guys will get out there and play for the jersey. But there are boys in their seventh big week of playing which is a different load from club rugby, so it’s just how we managed that and try to freshen them up. “

Saturday’s game kicks-off at 4.35pm.

THE TEAMS

Southland: Robbie Robinson, Viliame Fine, Matt Whaanga, Scott Gregory, Rory van Vugt, Jack MacLeod, Jay Renton, Blair Ryall, Matt James, Grayson Knapp, Josh Bekhuis, Caleb Aperahama, Morgan Mitchell, Sam Stewart, Paula Latu. Reserves; Jacob Payne, Quinn Harrison-Jones, Kane Prentice, Charles Alaimalo, Jacob Coghlan, Osika Kaufononga, Willie Tufui, Tevita Latu.

Wellington: Connor Garden-Bachop, Julian Savea, Bill Proctor, Peter Umaga-Jensen, Mehe Milner-Skudder, Aiden Morgan, TJ Peneara, Peter Lakai, Sione Halalilo, Caleb Delany, Josh To’omaga, Dominic Bird, Pekahou Cowan, Asafo Aumua, Xavier Numia. Reserves; James O’Reilly, Solomona Sakalia, Hugo Plummer, Keelan Whitman, Richard Judd, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Ruben Love.