Shute Shield: Southern Districts searching for consistency ahead of Eastwood clash

Photo: Malcolm Chuck

Southern Districts will look to overcome a shaky start to the season when they take on Eastwood at TG Millner on Saturday afternoon.

Last year’s preliminary finalists are sixth after seven rounds but have struggled with consistency in the early stages of the season.

“I think that has largely been due to players playing out of their preferred position and constant changes in the side due to injury and unavailability,” Souths coach Matt Barr told Rugby News.

“We’ve also made some adjustments to our structures and that takes time to perfect. We’re confident the side is taking shape and close to full strength and those areas we have been working hard on will come together in the next few weeks.”

Souths were forced to start the season without an established No.9 this year after Dewet Roos was signed by the Brumbies just weeks before round one. Barr shifted flyhalf Rohan Sailoloi to the base of the scrum for the opening six rounds before giving new recruit Eli Pilz an opportunity last week against West Harbour.

Pilz has retained his spot in the starting side for this weekend’s clash against the Woodies, with Saifoloi returning to a more familiar role at flyhalf and Paul Asquith shifting to fullback.

“Rohan did a great job considering it was a totally unfamiliar role and skill set but now that he is back playing at No.10, we can expect the side to take big steps forward in how we play,” Barr said.

“It will also free up Paul Asquith and give him more time and space.”

After a disappointing effort against Warringah in round six, the Rebels beat West Harbour 34-27 in a seesawing affair at Forshaw last weekend.

While Souths now have the best attacking record in the competition, Barr said his side will still need to improve to challenge an Eastwood side that have shown glimpses of the form that took them to back to back premierships in 2014 and 2015.

“They’re always tough to beat at home. We’ve developed a health rivalry and had a number of great clashes over the last few years.

“More importantly though, it’s a great opportunity to move ahead of Eastwood on the ladder and also beat a side above us, which is something we have struggled to do this year.”

The Woodies overcame a 14-point deficit to steal a draw against Randwick at Coogee Oval last weekend.

After an unbeaten opening month of rugby, Eastwood now haven’t won since round four and have struggled without star flyhalf Jai Ayoub.

Despite that, coach Stu Woodhouse still saw plenty of positives in his side’s performance last weekend.

“I was very happy with our attitude in defence, we only allowed Randwick to enter our red zone six times,” he said.

“Our attack is still a bit of a work in progress, but that can be expected as we’re playing with a new No.10. We’ve worked on all aspects of our attack this week.

While the Woodies are currently third, just four competition points now separates them from Sydney Uni in seventh spot, giving the home side more incentive to return to the winner’s circle on Saturday.

“Souths are a very physical team. In the past they’ve played direct and been very confrontational. Plus their backline have played together for many years and Paul Asquith at the back offers problems.”