The Tasman forward pack answered their doubters in the best possible fashion on Saturday, setting up a commanding 19-3 victory over Wellington in Porirua.
After being dominated up front during the side’s only losses this season, to North Harbour and Auckland, doubts began to surface over the potency of the Mako forwards.
However, after paving the way for a comfortable win over Southland last weekend they stepped up to another level at the weekend, totally outplaying one of the leading premiership side’s packs.
The battle of the 2019 Mitre 10 Cup premiership finalists was expected to be close, especially given their respective records this year.
Interestingly, only five of the 13 Mako forwards named for the decider at Trafalgar Park last year fronted up for Saturday’s rematch – Andrew Makalio, who impressed in his 50th game for the union, the returning Quinten Strange, Sione Havili, who gets better with each outing, Isaac Salmon and Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta.
In contrast, Wellington fielded eight of their forward mix from the 2019 final.
However it was the visiting side at Jerry Collins Stadium who looked the more powerful, cohesive, organised outfit. Their scrum held the upper hand for most of the match, their lineout was sound despite tricky conditions and both the Mako tries came from unstoppable lineout drives. Allied to that slick set piece work came some bruising defence from the big men, ensuring Wellington’s ball-carriers rarely breached the gain line.
Mako co-head coach Andrew Goodman was “stoked” by his side’s efforts today, especially the forward display.
“That was an important win for our season really,” he said.
When the Mako turned at halftime with an 11-point lead, despite playing with a strong wind at their backs, the game was very much in the balance, but Goodman said his side’s leaders pulled the right strings.
“[The wind] was very gusty and hard to play into, but I felt our nine [Finlay Christie] and 10 [Mitch Hunt] played really well in the second half. However it was the forwards today who laid the platform for that victory … the maul, the scrum, just all the work they had to get through.
“Isaac Salmon, both at scrum time and on defence, was outstanding. A lot of the boys that have been given more of an opportunity this year stood up today. I’m really proud of them.”
Goodman also praised the input of experienced squad members Ethan Blackadder and Strange. “Even when they have been unable to take the field they have been massive for us this year with all the work they have done with the lads, off the field.”
The return of Strange, an All Black-in-waiting, to the field could not have come at a better time for the Mako, his presence an inspiration to his team mates.
“It’s great to have his leadership back,” said Goodman, “he’s driven standards really high during the last couple of weeks when he’s been back on the training pitch so we hope to get a few more minutes from him next week.
The Mako, who briefly returned to the top of the premiership table with their victory, meet cellar-dwellers Canterbury in Blenheim on Saturday, kick off 7.05pm.