The Tasman Mako matched the thunder and lightning rolling around Lansdowne Park on Saturday afternoon with a storming performance to kick off their Mitre 10 Cup season in style.
A handy Wellington side was put to the sword in convincing style, the home side defying the inclement conditions to cross for seven tries, while restricting their opponents to a paltry eight points through some bone-crunching defence.
As an opening performance, it would be hard to ask for more from the Mako. With players coming into camp from different combinations, with varied mind-sets and limited time together, it would be easy to excuse a rusty, error-prone effort.
But this was a clinical showing, the home side setting the tone in the first quarter. Their forwards bossed the breakdown, ruled at scrum time and made big metres through lineout drives, leading to tries by Liam Squire, whose physical presence has been missed, Andrew Makalio and Tyrel Lomax.
Eager chasers allowed the Mako to employ an effective kicking game, playing ball in their opponent’s territory, forcing mistakes from a clearly rattled capital crew.
Just when the Lions began to gain some belief it was snatched away through a game turning point. After cleverly creating a clear try-scoring opportunity on the right wing the final pass was intercepted by Mako skipper David Havili who sprinted 80m to score a “14-point try”, bagging his side’s bonus point and shutting the door on any hopes Wellington had of heading for halftime with momentum.
Interestingly, if Havili had not managed to reel in the intercepted pass cleanly it is likely he would have spent the next 10 minutes in the sin bin as Wellington were odds on to score, but fortune favoured the brave skipper.
As expected the Lions came out with renewed determination after oranges, but were again met by resolute defence, led by workhorse Ethan Blackadder who has obviously returned to camp with a desire to play big minutes after being sparsely used by the Crusaders. In the same camp are inside backs Finlay Christie and Mitch Hunt, who both relished their starting roles and opportunity to shift the team around the park with well-placed kicking.
It wasn’t a day for outside backs but Havili and Will Jordan did everything asked of them under Wellington’s aerial bombardment.
However, it was a day for cohesive, ruthless forward play and Andrew Goodman got just that as he racked up his first NPC win as Mako co-coach.
“I thought the boys adjusted well to the conditions … we saw earlier in the week that the rain was probably going to come in so we talked about that contestable kicking game, using our strength up front, with our driving lineout and scrum to really take it to them. The boys up front really laid a good platform.”
The home side’s game plan also contributed to a low error rate from the Mako who were content to shift the pressure of ball retention to their rivals. “We were comfortable without the ball … putting them under pressure in the air then trusting our defence, we didn’t try to play long phases with the ball, especially in the first half.”
Although well aware that the Mako have now drawn a decent-sized target on their back with such a dominant performance against one of the more-favoured sides in the premiership, Goodman knows it is only a start.
“We prepared really well but we are going to have to do that again this week heading into Canterbury [Sunday in Christchurch, 2.05pm kick-off] … there is strength right across this premiership.”
Goodman was especially happy with the efforts of flanker Sione Havili, “very busy on D”, Havili “who led from the back”, plus Christie and Hunt who he felt “controlled the game well”.
“The whole team trained well all week so to transfer it onto the field is a great feeling.”
Wellington head coach Chris Gibbes was obviously not feeling so up-beat.
“They kicked our arse, that’s basically what’s happened”, he said immediately after the match.
“They put pressure on us in the first half and we didn’t respond, in the second half there were patches when we were better but when the skill level lets you down like it did for us, against a clinical team like Tasman you are going to pay, and that’s what happened.
“They are a top four team so we have to make sure we take our medicine and learn from it.”
Tasman 45 (Leicester Faingaanuku 2, Liam Squire, Andrew Makalio, Tyrel Lomax, David Havili, Te Ahiwaru Crikidaveta tries, Mitchell Hunt 5 cons) Wellington 8 (Alex Fidow try, Garden-Bachop pen). HT: 26-3.