Hawke's Bay Magpies rugby team loosie Devan Flanders has given his coaching staff a healthy selection dilemma in the countdown to Saturday's Mitre 10 Cup Championship semifinal.
Promoted to the starting XV as a late replacement for injured No 8 Gareth Evans, Flanders, 20, was the Magpies' best player in their 47-28 loss to unbeaten Premiership leaders Tasman at Napier's McLean Park on Saturday. The 2018 and '19 Baby Black, who has started in six of the Magpies' 10 outings this season, did more than enough to warrant another starting XV appearance in the semifinal.
Flanders finished the match with an average gain of 4.64 metres from his 11 carries and five defenders beaten. He made 15 tackles and missed two.
While he is likely to vacate the No 8 role to allow co-captain Evans another start he could be used in the blindside flanker's role, which would give the Magpies the luxury of having quality impact from Highlanders loosie Marino Mikaele-Tu'u off the subs bench. Flanders wasn't counting his chickens as far as another starting XV role was concerned.
"I would like to hope so. But we all know what Gareth can bring so I'll just have to wait and see what the coaches want," Flanders said.
He was happy with his 80-minute shift against the Mako which included his first try for the Magpies after bursting off the back of a five metre scrum in the 22nd minute.
"I normally cramp up around the 60 minute mark so it was good to complete the game and also score my first try for the team," Flanders said.
He agreed the leaking of three tries during the third quarter proved costly for the Magpies against the first team to complete an unbeaten regular season since Auckland did in 2007.
"It was one of those days. We were competitive for 90 per cent of the game. It was just that 10 per cent which let us down ... straight after halftime. But I was happy with that final quarter," Flanders said.
"Tasman are a first class team all round. We couldn't execute as well as we would have liked against them," Flanders added.
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Magpies head coach Mark Ozich agreed he and his assistant Josh Syms have some pondering to complete before finalising their loose forward trio for Saturday's 4.35pm semifinal against Otago at McLean Park.
"Devan had a hell of a game not only with his carries but going backwards. His offloads, his one-arm carries. We all know he is a special talent and he's still only 20. All of the loose forward trio, which also included flankers Brendon O'Connor and Mikaele-Tu'u, got through a lot of work against a formidable pack."
Ozich was proud of the manner his troops fought back in the final quarter and scored the final two tries of the match.
"The 28 points we scored is the most Tasman have leaked all season. Because of the weight of their big blokes it was hard to stick with them. I'm reasonably happy. We could have folded but we didn't."
Ozich pointed out that the shoulder injury, which forced Magpies second five-eighth Danny Toala from the field in the first quarter, isn't as bad as first thought but x-rays today will determine his availability for Saturday.
Mikaele-Tu'u finished the match with an average gain of seven metres from his six carries and six defenders beaten. He also made 15 tackles but missed three.
Former Mako outside back Caleb Makene had a strong game in his first outing of the season on the wing for the Magpies. He had an average gain of 12.43 metres from seven carries.
Mako second five-eighth Alex Nankivell deserved player-of-the-match honours. He beat seven defenders and had an average gain of 12.22 metres from nine carries.
The Magpies missed 31 tackles in the match, the same number as the Mako. The hosts made 11 clean breaks, one less than the Mako and conceded 11 penalties, the same as the Mako.
The Big Barrel Hawke's Bay Tui will host Northland in their Farah Palmer Cup Championship semifinal from 2.05pm in the curtainraiser to the Magpies semifinal.
Heartstopper: Mako captain and fullback David Havili's 10th minute tackle on his Magpies counterpart Tiaan Falcon. It was a beauty but fortunately no damage was done to Falcon.
Turning point: Mako winger Leicester Faingaanuku's second try in the 43rd minute which first five-eighth Mitchell Hunt converted to give the visitors a 26-14 lead. The Magpies were never going to recover from this deficit against a quality side like the Mako.
Player of the match: Mako second five-eighth Alex Nankivell. Powerful on the carry with more than 90 run metres. A rock on defence. Only just ahead of winger Leicester Fainggnuku and No 8 Sione Talitui.
Scorers: Tasman Mako 47 (Sione Talitui, Leicester Faingaanuku 2, Lotima Faingaanuku, Mitchell Hunt, Alex Nankivell, Hugh Roach tries; Mitchell Hunt 4, David Havili 2 cons), Hawke's Bay Magpies 28 (Marino Mikaele-Tu'u, Devan Flanders, Caleb Makene, Jason Long tries; Tiaan Falcon 4 cons). HT: 19-14.
■ The Hawke's Bay Primary Schools Barbarians rugby team beat the Hawke's Bay Ross Shield side 31-26 in the curtainraiser after leading 31-7 at halftime. Winger Yuri Dempsey was player-of-the-match for the Barbarians and winger Iraia Roberts was the Hawke's Bay Ross Shield side's player of the match.
Dempsey, Adrian Dixon, Storm Kemp, Riley Tautau and Noah Ioasa scored tries for the Barbarians and Ioasa, Oliver Beale and Hunter Andrews kicked their conversions. Roberts scored two tries for the Hawke's Bay Ross Shield side and Kaden Makea and Iziah Matamata the others. Noah Rogers kicked three conversions.