If Tasman rugby fans were wondering if their side is the real deal in 2019 – they can begin to believe.
Sometimes fond early impressions flatter to deceive, with subsequent outings bringing supporters quickly back to earth. However, on the basis of the Mako’s showing in Christchurch on Sunday, there is more than enough cause for optimism.
Their efforts, at probably the toughest NPC venue in the country to leave with a positive outcome, will warm the hearts of the top of the south fraternity who, too often in recent times have had to bow the knee to the Red and Blacks.
Sure, one swallow (or even two) does not make a summer, but the 23-7 result, coupled with the positive style and creativity the Mako brought to the table, suggest a feast of rugby is about to be set before the Tasman faithful.
Against Canterbury, surely still the yardstick for provincial excellence despite losing the NPC final to Auckland last year, Tasman turned the tables.
They were more clinical than their hosts, more aggressive and effective at the breakdown, kicked more accurately and chased better, applied massive pressure at set piece and subsequently “bossed” the game. In other words, “they did a Canterbury on Canterbury”.
The familiarity between the sides, through the Crusaders connection, means there are few secrets any more. Players talk of “nailing the one percenters”, and there was no doubt who dominated those small margins on Sunday.
The advantages created by the fact Tasman won so many of the “little battles” meant they were able to play with creativity and express themselves. A couple of wide, quick passes gave boom winger Leicester Faingaanuku enough time to make the most of an opportunity on the left, scoring the try of the match. Hard yards in front of the ball enabled Shannon Frizell to score at the tail of a rolling maul.
The Mako players’ work in the air chasing halfback Finlay Christie’s pinpoint box kicks offered a point of difference, making the Canterbury defence retreat and creating momentum.
Mako co-coach Clarke Dermody said Blenheim-based skills coach Gray Cornelius had been putting in a lot of work with the halfbacks to ensure their box kicking was on point and it had certainly paid dividends.
While acknowledging the fact that winning in Christchurch is never easy, Dermody suggested his side had “left a few points out there as well”.
The tough task-master found it hard to compare Sunday’s outing with his side’s opening round 45-8 win over Wellington, given the more favourable weather conditions.
“We were able to play a bit faster today. The game opened up a lot more than last week, but we still need to nail some of our execution under pressure.”
He was pleased with the way the Mako set pieces went, plus the goal line defence which limited Canterbury to a single long-range breakout try.
“They were some big moments. If we had let them in there the game could have changed. I’m happy with how the boys got stuck into it.”
A feature of the Mako game this season has been an ability to adapt their game plan to suit the situation, something Dermody puts down to a growing level of experience within the group.
“Whilst a lot of them are still young men, some of them have been with the team for four or five years now. That means they have been in some pressure situations and we can rely on them to make very good decisions on the field.”
A slight hiccup in today’s display was the teams’ inability to nail a fourth try and a bonus point, especially given the chances they created, something Dermody described as a ”work-on”.
“We’ll look at that during the week and try to rectify that for Manawatu”, he warned ominously.
The Turbos are next on the Mako radar, with that match scheduled for Blenheim at 2.35pm on Saturday.
Manawatu will be desperately looking at ways to derail the Tasman train, but will have their work cut out against a confident, motivated outfit who can smell blood in the water.
Scorers from Sunday: Tasman 23 (Levi Aumua, Leicester Faingaanuku, Andrew Makalio tries, Mitch Hunt con, 2 pen) Canterbury 8 (Josh McKay try, Brett Cameron pen). HT: 18-3.
Mitre 10 premiership standings (as at August 20): Tasman 9, Auckland 8, Counties Manukau 7, Waikato 5, North Harbour 4, Wellington 3, Canterbury 2.
Championship standings: Bay of Plenty 10, Taranaki 9, Hawke’s Bay 8, Otago 5, Northland 4, Manawatu 1, Southland 0.