If securing five points, while exploring their depth of talent, was Tasman’s objective at Lansdowne Park on Saturday, the afternoon was an unqualified success.
Not only did they over-run the Manawatu Turbos 64-3, they also showed that there is a rich vein of ability running right through the squad, enough to cover the ups-and-downs of an NPC season.
Players such as hooker Hugh Roach, flanker Jacob Norris, midfielder Tim O’Malley, wingers Tima Faingaanuku and Jamie Spowart were given a starting opportunity and seized their moment eagerly.
Frontrowers Sam Moli and Isaac Salmon, new halfback Uchida Keisuke, plus utility back Fetuli Paea grabbed big minutes off the bench, their input providing the second half momentum that saw five more tries added to the home side’s tally.
Mako co-head coach Andrew Goodman said one of the best things to have come out of the match was the input of lesser-utilised players.
“It was good to see a couple of boys have their first games [for the Mako] plus a couple of guys that hadn’t played many minutes this year, so it was great to build that depth in our squad heading into a busy part of the season.”
“We were mostly happy with our execution today, although there were a few missed opportunities in the first half which we will look to work on, just around that support player being really clear in his communication. Things we can certainly get better at.”
Goodman is well aware the Mako have painted a sizeable target on their backs, given their three-from-three opening to the Mitre 10 Cup campaign, but said there will be no overconfidence or taking selection for granted leading into their next match [away against Taranaki].
“I think what we have created now, especially with this game, is good competition for spots so we will keep driving that every day.
“We will enjoy this win tonight and then we will get onto the ‘Naki, which we know is always a tough game, especially up there.”
A totally new face for Mako fans to identify with was second half replacement Keisuke, a 22-cap Japanese international. He looked sharp and hungry for work, maintaining the speed of the game while not afraid to have a snipe around the breakdown.
“He is going to be a valuable addition to our squad,” suggested Goodman.
“It was great to see Atu [Moli] and his brother Sam out there playing together, a special moment for their family. It was Atu’s first game for the union and Sam came on and played really well. We also had Tim [Perry] back, another one who played rugby in the Marlborough region, so it was great to have those guys back and contributing, they brought excitement, having not played for a while.”
The All Blacks’ squad is named on Wednesday, meaning there is a chance the Mako could lose a player or two to international duty, with Jordan Taufua also a possibility to be picked up by Samoa. Goodman is unfazed by the possible disruption.
“We’ll just wait and see what happens. Obviously we have our fingers crossed that the boys make those teams … we’ll celebrate any success we get with any of our boys making those [World Cup] squads.
“We have built some good depth now so we’ll just keep working on that.”
Saturday’s comprehensive victory also underlined the growing reputation of Lansdowne Park as an increasingly tough venue to beat the home side at. Tasman have now won nine in a row in Blenheim since losing to Auckland in September 2015, creating something of a “Fortress Mako” in the eastern side of the region.
“That’s awesome,” said Goodman, “the boys love coming over here, especially on days like this when the sun is out.
“It’s great to see the crowd out today, supporting the team, and I’m glad the boys put on a good show for them.”
Next up is Taranaki, 4.35pm next Sunday in New Plymouth.