The only cloud on the Tasman rugby horizon after they completed a perfect start to their 2020 Mitre 10 Cup premiership campaign at Lansdowne Park on Friday night is an All Black one.
The Makos 54-21 win over Northland means the defending champs have claimed maximum points from their first two matches. Their potent backline and imposing forwards have proved too powerful for both Counties Manukau and the Taniwha. However the Tasman ranks are about to be thinned with the All Blacks going into camp on Monday in preparation for their forthcoming international fixtures.
After that, the availability of Tasman’s men in black is up to Ian Foster and his fellow selectors.
This situation could involve up to seven Mako men. Definitely Tyrel Lomax, Quinten Strange, Shannon Frizell, Sevu Reece and Will Jordan, who have been named in the initial All Blacks squad, and possibly utility backs David Havili and Leicester Fainga’anuku as the three wise men look to enlarge their squad.
For the Mako management this will undoubtedly be accepted as the price of success. Develop players to the top level and they are bound to be noticed and in demand, that’s how it works. The question is, does Tasman have enough depth to maintain their momentum when the stars go away to play?
Co-head coach Andrew Goodman thinks so.
“There is going to be guys getting more opportunities now with more minutes, so it’s going to be exciting to see how they perform when they are given the opportunity to put their hand up.
“We will obviously welcome our All Black players back with open arms if we get that chance, but we are preparing as if they won’t be available [next weekend].”
There was no denying the All Black contingent’s impact on Friday evening’s game. Reece bagged three tries, Jordan’s silky running repeatedly sliced Northland open, although he kicked more than usual, Lomax was at the core of a formidable scrum and Frizell was simply superb.
However, they were certainly not the only players to shine.
Centre Fetuli Paea just keeps getting better, his fearless running and timing making him a real handful. Havili, Tasman’s man-for-all-positions, was influential in this 2020 debut, Mitch Hunt’s clever kicking and judicious passing set up a couple of tries while halfback Dwayne Polataivao fitted in nicely.
Up front, the forwards excelled at set piece time, providing clean line-out ball plus some clever variations and regularly bullying the Northland scrum. Andrew Makalio’s aggressive approach led the way, while flankers Norris and Hugh Renton were prominent both on attack and defence.
Goodman was generally happy with his side’s effort, despite conceding three tries.
“The start was good … the forwards set a great platform, carried well with good body height and got us go-forward ball which the backs were able to work well off.
“At this time of year we are still striving for that 80-minute performance. At the end of the first half we gave away five penalties in a row which allowed them to get some points before halftime, which we were disappointed with.
“However, the boys addressed that at halftime and came out with a really strong opening to the second half.
“Shannon [Frizell] was a standout … he carried hard all day and was amazing on both sides of the ball. Jacob [Norris] got us some good momentum and it was pleasing to see Braden Stewart and others come on and contribute at the end.”
Replacement halfback Louie Chapman and lock Cameron Suafoa made their debuts tonight, both putting in efforts Goodman was pleased with.
Expect a new-look Mako side to run out in their next game, against Waikato, on Saturday at 2.05pm in Nelson.
It is likely the Mooloo men will also be without some of their stars as the competition returns to its normal, All Blacks-free, appearance.
In some ways the “real” NPC begins next week, and Tasman couldn’t have wished for a better start.