MBC player Arlyn Bull bursts clear to score against Nelson College White. Photo: Peter Jones.

MBC juniors beaten in sevens final

The Marlborough Boys’ College A team finished runner-up in the annual Tasman secondary schools junior sevens rugby tournament staged at Renwick on Thursday.

MBC finished top of their group after pool play, then overcame Queen Charlotte College 28-0 in the top four semis.

In the decider they took on Nelson College A, who had also won their pool and then beaten Nelson College White 29-0 in the semis.

The Nelson College crew proved too strong for MBC in the final, prevailing 21-7.

Motueka beat MBC Blue 24-0 in the 3 v 3 play-off, while Garin College beat MBC Gold 41-0 in the 4 v 4 decider.

Tony Lewis with the Mitre 10 Cup. Photo: Supplied.

Tasman rugby boss delighted that “arranged marriage” is working out well 

The Mitre 10 Cup may be residing in the Tasman Rugby Union’s trophy cabinet, but Marlborough and Nelson’s coming together to form a successful top of the south rugby entity has been the highlight of the past few years, according to union chief executive Tony Lewis.

“Over the past six years Marlborough and Nelson have come together as one, that’s been the high point for me.

“And you see the kids, they want to be Mako, they don’t want to be a Griffin, they don’t want to be a Red Devil … I think some of the young kids don’t even know what they are.

“We are just one proud provincial union.”

In just 14 seasons Tasman have risen from competition newbies to NPC champions, an amazingly short time frame.

“It’s even more amusing,” said Lewis, “when you think that it wasn’t so long ago that they were going to kick us out [of the NPC] … then over the last six years we have just built this group of players.

“I remember when we had just four Super Rugby players, now we have got 20-plus Super players. And people want to come and play for us because we have this culture.”

Lewis suggested building from within was the key to success over the past six seasons.

“Kieran [Keane] got the team up into the premiership, then he left a good legacy for Leon [MacDonald], who built it further, then left a good legacy for Andrew [Goodman], Clarke [Dermody] and Shane [Christie].

“It has just created a momentum.

“The key is that when the people had the concept of ‘let’s have a team in the top of the south’ it was to keep people in the region plus attract people to the region. When you look out there [at the 2019 squad] and you see the number of ex-First XV players from the region who are involved, the number of players who have come through our club system … it’s just incredible.”

He cited the fact that, of the 23 Mako players who contested the play-offs, Isaac Salmon, Fetuli Paea, Te Ahirawu Cirikidaveta, Sione Havili, Jacob Norris and Tim O’Malley played club rugby in 2019. Wyatt Crockett, Salmon, Quinten Strange, Ethan Blackadder, Leicester Fainga’anuku and David Havili attended Nelson College.

In the wider squad, Atu and Sam Moli plus Braden Stewart went to Marlborough Boys’ College, while Tima Fainga’anuku was a former Nelson College stand-out.

“Another thing we have taken upon ourselves in the last few years is to, where possible, grow our own coaches,” said Lewis. “We had Kieran and Leon, then Andrew and Shane, both former captains, then Gray Cornelius. So if we can keep on growing our own, then that’s our number one.”

“The key now is building on that, and how we go about that. The biggest problem we will have is if we get a bit complacent about success.”

He was naturally delighted for the Tasman players who put together a ‘perfect’ 12-from-12 winning season, capping it with their 31-14 premiership victory over Wellington on Saturday, but suggested they battled for everything that came their way.

“When I looked out at the final I had this vision that unless you earned the win you were never going to get the win, and you saw them earning that win. Whether it was Will Jordan or Finlay Christie chasing a guy down, they worked and earned everything they got and they deserved the lot.”

He had his own unique view of the Tasman alliance.

“I always thought of it as an ‘arranged marriage’ … you hold hands for the first couple of years and now we are passionately kissing each other and the honeymoon is all on.”

Lewis said the scenes after the final victory summed up the situation.

“This result will go through the top of the south … there are people from Blenheim hugging those from Nelson, it’s just an outstanding result for the whole region.”

Gray Cornelius in pre-match mode. Photo: Shuttersport.

Cornelius tastes immediate NPC success

Tasman rugby’s policy of building coaching strength from within has paid off handsomely this season.

Three members of the successful four-man Mako coaching team learned their trade in the top of the south.

Andrew Goodman, co-head coach alongside Clarke Dermody, was a former Mako captain, then assistant coach under Leon MacDonald from 2016-18.

Shane Christie, another former Mako skipper, followed a similar path while the newest member of the coaching group, Gray Cornelius, stepped up to Mitre 10 Cup level this season after many seasons as First XV coach at Marlborough Boys’ College.

Cornelius, a former Marlborough Red Devils representative, has relished his first taste of coaching at provincial level and laughed off suggestions he may have been something of lucky charm for the team who finally broke their premiership final duck with a 31-14 win over Wellington on Saturday evening.

“Right place, right time,” suggested Cornelius with a chuckle. “I’ve really enjoyed [the coaching] it’s been awesome but I think I may have jumped on the back of a lot of work that’s gone before me, over many years.

“We’ve had some pretty influential people in this union that have done a hell of a lot and I guess [the premiership title] is the culmination of their hard work.”

Cornelius felt sure the Mako’s unbeaten season would provide a huge boost for rugby in the top of the south.

“Absolutely … and we would be foolish if we didn’t leverage off it, to promote our province as a good place to come and play an exciting brand of rugby. That’s probably our goal leading into next year.”

The fact that the people of both Marlborough and Nelson turned out in large numbers for the Mako’s two play-off games was not lost on Cornelius who suggested that may not have happened if the matches were played in the bigger centres.

“I don’t want to sound presumptuous but if this final was played in Wellington I’m not sure you would get the same parochialism … it’s a smaller community here and the support has been awesome.

“Last week was excellent in Blenheim, a big crowd there and another large crowd here for the final – the town’s been humming, there’s kind of an intimate feel.”

Mako leaders Quinten Strange, Mitch Hunt and David Havili enjoy the spoils of success. Photo: Shuttersport.

From rags to riches: Tasman complete 14-year journey 

Tasman’s ascendance to the top rung of the New Zealand provincial ladder should come as no surprise to those who have followed the team’s fortunes in recent years.

Their star has been steadily rising, with the prospect of a breakthrough NPC premiership title seemingly only a matter of time.

And that time came on Saturday evening at Trafalgar Park when they dispatched a brave Wellington Lions side 31-14 to clinch perhaps the greatest “rags to riches” story in the annals of this country’s provincial rugby history.

Fifteen years ago the Tasman Mako were merely an idea, a concept that had merit but posed more questions than answers. Within 14 seasons, during which the nation’s newest union twice teetered on the edge of oblivion, they have established themselves as one of the powerhouses of our national game.

And there has been no magic wand, no special stairway to NPC heaven. It has taken determination, resilience and some astute management to get there.

Mako co-head coach Andrew Goodman has been a big part of the union’s success story, both as a player, then assistant coach to Leon MacDonald and co-head coach with Clarke Dermody this season.

Goodman said it had taken three or four seasons of hard work to get the team over the line.

“I want to say big thank you to all those guys outside the team who have had a big impact … one who comes immediately to mind is Leon for the influence he has had on Shane [Christie] and myself as young coaches.”

Tasman’s 12-from-12 charge to the title has been based around a fairly simple blueprint for success, a recipe that was repeated in the final.

“Wellington were never out of it, if one of those passes had stuck in the last 15 minutes it would have been a real tight finish,” said Goodman.

“But there was some great grit from our boys and the ‘Sparkies’ once again did a really good job. Tuli Paea came on at halftime and changed the game, Jacob Norris played awesome, Hugh Roach again, Uchi [Keisuke Uchida] for the last 15, Wyatt Crockett was amazing with two turnovers.

“We have trusted our bench a lot more this year because those guys have put their hands up at training every week.

“But it’s been a full squad effort … the whole management and coaching staff have been tireless, I’m just so proud of everyone.”

Just two players were involved during the union’s only previous successful NPC campaign, hard-nosed forwards Tim Perry and Liam Squire who, along with Jordan Taufua and Crockett, may have played their last game in the jersey.

Perry described the post-match feeling on Saturday as “unreal”.

“This is where it all started … it means a lot to me personally, [the coaches] gave me a crack and we won the second year I was here … we wanted to go to the top and we’ve finally done it, so it’s awesome to be a part of it.

“There have been a few ups and downs along the way … it hasn’t really sunk in yet. I couldn’t have done it with better bunch of men.”

Squire’s mind went back to another night, the 2014 premiership final loss to Taranaki in New Plymouth. “It’s good to redeem ourselves and get the job done this year, this feels awesome.

“The culture here is really something different, it’s a great tight-knit group and I can only see it growing with the talented young guys that are here.”

Asked if he will be back for another campaign Squire was unsure. “The body’s feeling a bit beaten up at the moment … that’s the dream, to come back, but there is also that feeling that this could have been my last game here in New Zealand.

“If that’s the case I couldn’t have asked for a better way to go out.”

Mako skipper David Havili was still trying to come to grips with his side’s achievements 15 minutes after the final whistle.

“I still can’t quite believe it … it’s quite raw at the moment.

“We have been building for this moment for a very long time, so to get over the line is just so good man, so good.

“There was both relief and excitement at the end, to put this little union on the map is bloody special.”

Havili boldly declared his loyalty for the province where he grew up and where he intends to remain.

“I’m definitely a Mako for life … I’m from the little town of Motueka and I won’t be leaving … but for now I think I’ll enjoy this for the next few days.”

 

The Tasman Rugby Union have had to fight ruin, relegation and dissolution to get to the top, their 14 years of existence marked by early battles to be accepted, then later struggles to become recognised as a major player on the national scene.

Saturday’s ascent to the top of the provincial tree capped one of New Zealand’s rugby’s most-astonishing rags-to-riches stories. 

Here’s how it all panned out.

TIMELINE

February 2005: Marlborough and Nelson Bays rugby stakeholders vote unanimously to support a joint venture bid to play in the Air New Zealand Cup

June 2005: A combined Marlborough, Nelson Bays side is accepted into the ANZC, providing grounds are upgraded

August 2005: Rugby manager Todd Blackadder, CEO Lee Germon and coach Dennis Brown named – Tasman name adopted

December 2005: Tasman officially becomes New Zealand’s newest provincial union.

July 2006: Lansdowne Park upgrade signed off. Makos play their first ANZC match at Lansdowne Park, against North Harbour. Finish season 12th with three wins.

January 2007: TRU borrow $600,000 to service $2.85m mortgage

October 2007: Tasman finish 11th in the NPC with two wins, Blackadder replaces Brown as Makos coach

February 2008: Peter Barr replaces Lee Germon as CEO

April 2008: TRU announce crippling $3.149m debt

July 2008: Marlborough District Council steps in and buys Lansdowne Park off the TRU for $3.45 million

August 2008: Tasman finish seventh in NPC, with four wins, however NZRU announce plans to dump Tasman and Northland from the ANZC in 2009.

September 2008: Tasman appeal to NZRU to remain in ANZC and are given a stay of execution, providing provinces resolve differences and present a sustainable budget for 2009

December 2008: Golden Edge and the Crusaders underwrite TRU for $300,000. MDC and NCC underwrite TRU for $75,000 – NZRU accepts Tasman back into the ANZC for 2009

February 2009: Kieran Keane and Bevan Cadwallader replace Blackadder as Makos coaches. The team finish ninth in the NPC, with six wins including victory over Auckland

July 2009: NZRU decide to return to 10-team competition. A ‘Save The Makos’ campaign is launched, backed by a petition signed by 14,000 fans and helps persuade the NZRU that a 14-team format should remain

July 2010: Leon MacDonald replaces Cadwallader as assistant coach, alongside Keane. The team finish 12th with four wins.

October 2011: The Makos finish 14th with just two wins.

October 2012: The tide turns. Makos make play-offs for the first time, winning five round robin games, but lose to Otago in semifinal. Andrew Flexman replaces Peter Barr as CEO.

October 2013: Makos win 10 of the 12 matches, take out the ITM Cup championship by beating Hawke’s Bay at Trafalgar Park and are promoted to the premiership division

October 2014: Makos reach ITM Cup premiership final, winning eight of their 12 matches, then lose a thrilling final to Taranaki in New Plymouth. Tony Lewis replaces Andrew Flexman as CEO.

October 2015: Mako win seven of their 11 games, lose semifinal to Auckland.

October 2016: Leon MacDonald replaces Keane as head coach. Tasman win eight from 12, losing to Canterbury in the final.

October 2017: After winning seven from their 12 matches, Tasman reach another final, losing again to Canterbury in Christchurch. The Makos officially change their name to The Tasman Mako

October 2018: Another top season, winning nine from 11 games but slipping at the penultimate hurdle, beaten in the semifinal by Canterbury.

November 2018: Andrew Goodman and Clarke Dermody replace MacDonald as co-head coaches

October 2019: The Tasman Mako – the nation’s champion rugby province!

Alex Nankivell, left and Tim O’Malley lift the Mitre 10 Premiership trophy at Trafalgar Park on Saturday night. Photo: Evan Barnes/Shuttersport.

Mako may have another ‘tiger by the tail’

When Marlborough wrestled the Ranfurly Shield from Canterbury in 1973 Red Devils skipper Ramon Sutherland famously commented that perhaps the little top of the south province had grabbed “a tiger by the tail”.

Forty-six years later Ramon, now president of the Tasman Rugby Union, suggests the nation’s newest union may have done the same thing.

“I think we have got another [tiger by the tail] … it’s one thing to get there, now they have got to keep this standard up … but I’m sure they can,” he says.

On Saturday evening the Mako completed a perfect 12-from-12 season with a 31-14 win over Wellington in Nelson to claim the Mitre 10 Cup premiership title for the first time and underline their status as the country’s leading province.

Although Ramon has been surprised with the speed with which Tasman has risen to the top of the provincial tree, he says good coaching has been the key to success.

Tasman Rugby Union president Ramon Sutherland watched the Mako clinch a perfect season at Trafalgar Park on Saturday evening. Photo: Peter Jones.
Tasman Rugby Union president Ramon Sutherland watched the Mako clinch a perfect season at Trafalgar Park on Saturday evening. Photo: Peter Jones.

“Kieran Keane started it and it has carried on through Leon [MacDonald] and that’s why the improvement has been so fast.”

He feels the Mako’s win will do a lot of huge amount for the sport in the Marlborough/Nelson region.

“It shows that you don’t have to be a big city union to [win the premiership]. With the right encouragement and finances you can do it, but in a small area with a small population everyone has to do a lot of work.”

Although it is hard to compare achievements from different eras, Ramon suggested Tasman’s NPC win was “right up there” with Marlborough’s famous 1973-74 Ranfurly Shield era.

“Coming from a small area we have done exceptionally well.

“We have got some really talented players there and they are just going to get better,” he predicted.

Tasman chairman Wayne Young, like Ramon a former Red Devils player, said his immediate feeling after the final whistle on Saturday was “relief”.

“The way we had performed all year it would have been terrible not to get over the line tonight. Our defence was a huge factor.”

Wayne said the impetus for the team’s success began a few season’s back, under Leon MacDonald’s watch.

“He built a good culture which everyone has bought into, now we have just got to keep that momentum. It’s just providing that balance between our local players coming through and keeping our Super players on track, because we still have to provide a pathway for our young club players – it’s a balancing act.”

When Tasman ran out for their first NPC match, against North Harbour in 2006, they were led onto the park by hooker Ti’i Paulo.

Now based in Marlborough, Ti’i has experienced first-hand the unprecedented rise of the Mako.

After leading them in 2006, when they were very much an unknown quantity, he played 11 seasons in France, before rejoining the team in 2017, by which time the Mako were provincial powerhouses.

“To come back in 2017 was a real buzz for me … to see how far they had come was awesome.

“Thinking back when we first started, I wouldn’t have dreamed about them winning the whole thing, it’s a pretty proud moment.”

He says the most significant change he noticed was self-belief.

“That season [2017] will stay in my memory … the whole club and union had shifted to have confidence in their ability. I felt that when I came back.”

Ti’i says the fact that just 10 years ago the national body was looking to cut the Mako, illustrates just how much grit the franchise had.

“Having that resilience to stay there and become a respected side was a massive positive.”

The fans also played an integral part in helping the Mako survive.

“Everyone just fell in love with the team and their relationship with supporters was always strong.”

He says a premiership title is a “fantastic reward” for the region.

“It will be massive for the both sides of the hill, everyone’s been waiting for them to lift that trophy.

“It makes me very proud to be a Mako.”

Tasman players Hannah Gillespie, Hayley Hutana and Jordan Foster take a look around Forsyth Barr Stadium before playing Otago there on Saturday. Photo: Supplied.

Mako women bow out in Dunedin

Despite being well beaten in their final game of the season the Tasman Mako women’s side have made “massive strides”, according to head coach Chris Binns.

Tasman were beaten 64-10 by the Otago Spirit side in a Farah Palmer Cup championship semifinal at Dunedin’s Forsyth Barr Stadium on Saturday.

Binns said that while his charges had not played to their full potential they had come up against a very good side, who he feels will go on to take out the title.

Otago had too much pace out wide for Tasman and scored five first-half tries to lead 35-0, then added another touchdown soon after the break.

Tasman then managed to build some pressure of their own and were rewarded with two second half tries, to Sydnee Wilkins and Rebecca Kersten.

Otago first five-eighth Rosie Kelly had a big game, scoring two tries and drilled seven conversions in a 24-point haul.

For Tasman, debutante Jess Harvey, just 16, impressed off the bench, as did the propping duo of Louise Nalder and Paris Hart, plus loose forward Hannah Beech also turned in a solid shift.

Winger Kersten was outstanding, as was Wilkins and midfielder Jess Drummond.

Binns suggested his side may have played their semi-final the previous week, when they beat North Harbour in a quarterfinal.

“That meant a lot to them, to actually make the semi, and maybe today was just a step too far, at the moment.

“We were a little flat to start with and built into the game, but we were well and truly outplayed.”

The loss of key players Wai Greig and Pippa Andrews through injury did not help Tasman’s cause but their team mates stepped up.

“They were naturally disappointed to lose today but are a really good bunch and the most were happy with their season,” said Binns.

“We have made some massive strides this year, now the challenge for us as a management group is to put some planning in place that allows them to take bigger steps next year.”

A major plus for the Tasman side was the opportunity to play under the roof at Forsyth Barr. “The girls loved that,” he added.

“The facilities were amazing, it’s not every day that you get to play in such a facility.”

Otago 64 Tasman 10 (Sydnee Wilkins, Rebecca Kersten). HT: 35-0.

The Lansdowne Park crowd go wild as try-scorer Quinten Strange and reserve prop Isaac Salmon celebrate Tasman’s first touchdown on Saturday. Photo: Shuttersport.

Tasman to host Lions in NPC final

Tasman booked their ticket to the 2019 Mitre 10 Cup premiership final with a gritty display at Lansdowne Park on Saturday.

Their 18-9 victory over a feisty Auckland side who brought their ‘A’ game to Blenheim means the Mako earn the right to host the premiership decider at Nelson’s Trafalgar Park this weekend.

Standing between them and their first premiership title will be the Wellington Lions, who downed Canterbury 30-19 in the capital on Saturday evening.

Many pundits felt the Mako would find themselves up against their Crusaders region rivals in the final, but the Lions had other ideas, going out to an early lead then holding on against the inevitable Canterbury resurgence.

Wellington are a very dangerous opponent. The Mako beat them 45-8 in the opening round of the competition but, as was the case with Auckland who were also well beaten in round robin play, that result means nothing come play-off time.

The Lions are unpredictable – favouring unstructured, almost chaotic situations and have quality players capable of ripping defences apart.

Ball-playing forwards such as Asafo Aumua, Alex Fidow, Vaea Fifita, skipper du’ Plessis Kirifi and Teariki Ben-Nicholas possess both power and pace while Jackson Garden-Bachop, Peter Umaga-Jensen, Billy Proctor, Ben Lam, Wes Goosen and Vince Aso are as dangerous a backline unit as there is in the competition.

However, Wellington’s Achilles Heel is often their discipline and set piece consistency, areas I am sure the Mako coaches will be focussed on in the lead-up to the final.

Tasman may have bought their ticket to the “big dance”, but they paid a hefty price for it.

A lack of serious injuries has been a feature of the Mako campaign this year, but the rugby gods were definitely not smiling on Saturday.

The early loss of key loose forwards Ethan Blackadder and his replacement Jordan Taufua put the Mako on the back foot. If both are ruled out for the final that will impact the home side’s ability to bring big-match experience off the bench. They may also be without the elusive Will Jordan who limped from the field later in the match with what appeared to be a serious knee injury.

However, it was the team’s ability to handle adversity that saw Tasman through against Auckland and the Mako selectors have showed time and again that they have faith in their entire squad.

Co-head coach Andrew Goodman once again praised the efforts of his bench players against Auckland, despite the two early injuries affecting his replacement plans.

“One of our strengths has been being able to bring those guys on later in the game when teams are starting to tire, but I thought our ‘Sparkies’ still did an awesome job today,” said Goodman.

“That group of four or five that came on with about 20 [minutes] to go really changed the game.”

Pivotal to that situation was young forward Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta who replaced Taufua after 20 minutes. Usually called on as a lock, he turned in an inspirational effort on the side of the scrum, his defence being a highlight.

The fact that replacements Fetuli Paea and Hugh Roach made the breaks that led to the Mako’s two tries further underlines the impact this team is getting from the bench.

But ultimately their success on Saturday was based on relentless defence. Given the weight of position and possession Auckland enjoyed they should have been 10 points or more clear at half-time. Instead they trailed at the break, unable to breach the red and blue wall. As it has done throughout the season, Tasman’s structured and scrambling defence continually denied their opponent, creating frustration and uncertainty.

It will have to be on point again this weekend but, as they showed on Saturday, this Mako side certainly knows how to dig deep.

Now, in the union’s 14th year of existence, the Mako have a chance to make history.

It has been a turbulent, roller-coaster ride since the province’s humble beginnings in 2006, but the opportunity is there to sit proudly atop New Zealand provincial rugby, a remarkable situation to contemplate in such a short time frame.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. When Tasman previously tasted NPC success, in the 2013 championship final, it was the boisterous home town crowd who provided the extra impetus which got the Mako over the line.

The crowd involvement in Saturday’s semi, both during the contest and on the field after the game, was superb. The players and management relish it, knowing it puts wind under their wings.

It’s time to pack T-Park again Mako fans.

 

WHAT: Mitre 10 Cup premiership final

WHERE: Trafalgar Park, Nelson

WHO: Tasman Mako v Wellington Lions

WHEN: 6.05pm Saturday October 26. Gates open 4.30pm.

WANT TO GO: Ticket pricing (excludes booking fees – $1.50 online, $2 outlets and gates)

Covered stand: all ages – $25

Uncovered stands: adult (18+) $20; children (5-17 years) $10

Embankment: Adult $15; child $5.

Patrons are urged to purchase their tickets online to avoid delays at the gates. Simply scan and walk through with pre-purchased tickets.

Jess Drummond was in fine form for the Mako when they overcame North Harbour on Saturday. Photo: Shuttersport.

Tasman women’s season goes on

The Tasman women’s rugby team have earned themselves at least another week of Farah Palmer Cup championship play after getting the better of North Harbour during their quarterfinal in Auckland on Saturday.

The Mako women underlined their improvement this campaign by getting up for a 25-19 win against a side they had lost to first-up in the round-robin series.

Tasman started well, dominating the early exchanges and being reward through an early penalty to first five Hayley Hutana.

However a defensive misread quickly opened the door for the home side, who scored to take a 5-3 lead.

Fullback Bethan Manners replied with a try of her own, Hutana’s conversion opening up a 10-5 advantage before Harbour added a second try and conversion just before halftime to head into the sheds with a 12-10 lead.

The visitors were on the board first in the second spell, winger Rebecca Kersten dotting down. A conversion and penalty to Hutana shot the Mako out to a 20-12 advantage, then Sydnee Wilkins added their third touchdown to push them 13 points ahead.

Harbour weren’t about to lie down though and mounted a late comeback, scoring a converted try with six minutes to go. However, Tasman managed to hang on, despite what head coach Chris Binns described as “a few hair-raising moments”, when the home side threw everything into attack in the final minutes.

Best of the Mako crew were outstanding midfielder Jess Drummond, hard-working lock Courtney Clarke and halfback Jamie Paenga, a late call-up for Pippa Andrews who suffered an eye injury at training and had to withdraw.

Binns said the side had travelled north confident they could get the job done.

“After week one North Harbour were never a team that was going to scare us too much … we felt we had let ourselves down a wee bit when we played them in Blenheim.

“There has been so many learnings for the team between then and now. But until you walk away with the result you are never too sure.”

Their gritty victory means they will play Otago in Dunedin on Saturday in a FPC championship semifinal at Napier. In their previous meeting they lost 58-15 to the southerners.

Binns said that despite the lop-sided scoreline last time they met he was happy to be heading to Dunedin.

“If we can bring some of the physicality we had today then anything is possible – especially in a semi-final. Pressure does funny things to teams.”

Tasman 25 (Bethan Manners, Sydnee Wilkins, Rebecca Kersten tries, Hayley Hutana 2 pen, 2 con) North Harbour 19. HT: 12-10 Harbour.

Leicester Fainga’anuku was a handful for the Hawke’s Bay defence in Napier, bagging two tries on Saturday. Photo: Shuttersport.

Mako make history with round-robin clean sweep

A combination of attacking brilliance and set piece dominance saw the Tasman Mako create their own slice of history in Napier on Saturday.

The Mako downed Hawke’s Bay 47-28 to clinch an unbeaten run through Mitre 10 Cup round robin play, a first for the fledgling union and the first time that has been achieved by any NPC side since Auckland did so in 2007.

Historical significance aside, the Magpies’ match also provided Tasman with an ideal dress rehearsal for this week’s Mitre 10 Cup premiership semifinal at Lansdowne Park.

The match was evenly poised at the break, Tasman ahead 19-14, but the first 20 minutes after halftime produced four Mako tries and quickly took the game out of the home side’s reach.

Within two minutes of oranges Leicester Fainga’anuku scored his second try as the forwards and back combined to produce some irresistible attack. Ten minutes later Mitch Hunt was over, again the result of some sparking team work, then Alex Nankivell, arguably man of the match for Tasman, produced some individual brilliance to bag their sixth. Hooker Hugh Roach added the Mako’s final try in the 60th minute, underlining the impact of the “Sparkies” off the bench.

The home side picked up a couple of late tries to earn a bonus point, but the match was well and truly decided by then, underlying the difference in class between a top premiership side and a top championship outfit.

The first half was a see-sawing affair, with five tries scored.

The home side struck first, after just five minutes, when Marino Mikaele Tu’u scored, Tiaan Falcon’s conversion giving the Magpies an early 7-0 lead.

However the Mako bounced back quickly, No 8 Sione Havili benefitting from some determined work by Nankivell to bag the visitor’s first five-pointer. Hunt’s conversion levelled the scores.

The Magpies again claimed the lead midway through the half, No 8 Devan Flanders breaking a tackle from a five-metre scrum to score, with Falcon adding his second conversion.

Again Tasman drew level, this time through a try to winger Leicester Fainga’anuku from a well-worked lineout move after their scrum had given them dominance, along with a yellow card to Hawke’s Bay lock Geoff Cridge for a high tackle.

From then it was all Tasman, utilising the one-man advantage to produce quality set pieces and threaten the home side’s line.

However, it took until referee’s time in the first spell for them to bag their third, scored by Tima Fainga’anuku who dotted down in the corner from a Hunt cross kick after the forwards found the Magpies’ defence too hard to penetrate close to the posts.

Mako co-head coach Andrew Goodman was particularly impressed with his side’s efforts either side of the halftime break. “That middle patch won us the game. We played some really good rugby then, right up there.

“We probably started a bit slowly again … a few errors and penalties built up against us to put us under pressure, and we got a bit loose at the end.

“But the boys certainly got what they needed out of the game.

“It was a great challenge … our defence got tested and there are some things we need to work on there, plus some of our work with the ball in hand.”

Another pleasing factor was the fact the side appeared to come through with no serious injuries, making the selectors’ job to pick a semi-final side that much harder.

“It’s good isn’t it?” said Goodman. “Better that way than the other way. We have already started debating [selections] as a coaching group so there will be some tough calls to make.

“The great thing about this squad is that fact they are all really supportive of each other.

“They were really excited today because they knew they had a chance to make a bit of history. It was nice to tick that off.”

Scores: Tasman 47 (Sione Havili, Leicester Fainga’anuku 2, Tima Fainga’anuku, Alex Nankivell, Hugh Roach, Mitch Hunt tries, Hunt 4 con, David Havili 2 con) Hawke’s Bay 28 (Marino Mikaele Tu’u, Devan Flanders, Jason Long, Caleb Makene tries, Tiaan Falcon 4 con). HT 19-14 Mako

Waitohi's Jimmy Giles was named Tasman club rugby personality of the year. Photo: Shuttersport. 

Rugby awards handed out

The Tasman Rugby Union honoured members of their representative teams during a ceremony at the Turf Hotel in Nelson on Tuesday.

A series of awards were presented for community rugby, the Tasman under-19 team plus the Mako men’s and women’s teams.

On the club scene, three awards were presented.

Waitohi’s Fetuli Paea was named male club Player of the Year (male and female), awarded to the best club player of the season week in week out. The other nominees were Taina Fox-Matamua (Marist) and Campbell Morgan-Parata (Waimea Old Boys). Anna Bradley, from Waimea Old Boys, was named female club Player of the Year. Also in contention were Leah Miles (Waimea Old Boys) and Courtney Clarke (Motueka High School).

Waitohi stalwart Jimmy Giles was named Club Personality of the Year. A true all-rounder, Jimmy was the club’s President, Secretary, Treasurer, Club Captain, CoD Delegate, Coach and Captain. Under his leadership the Waitohi club won the Marlborough Sub-Union trophy and were semi-finalists in the E’stel Tasman Trophy.

Campbell Morgan-Parata was voted the Tasman Under 19 Player of the Year.

Several Tasman Mako awards were also handed out. Tamara Silcock was named the Mako Women’s Defender of the Year, while Ethan Blackadder took out the corresponding man’s award.

The Mako women’s Rookie of the Year award went to livewire loosie Leah Miles while outside back Fetuli Paea claimed the Mako Men Rookie of the Year prize.

Winger Rebecca Kersten’s efforts, week-in, week-out, earned her the Mako women’s Player of the Year trophy while the Jordan Taufua picked up the Mako men’s Player of the Year trophy, effectively the team’s MVP for the season as voted on by the coaching team.

In addition to those awards, the Mako Woman of the Year and Mako Man of the Year were also announced, after being voted on by the whole squad and management.

This year, Jessica Foster-Lawrence and David Havili, respective captains of the Mako flagship teams, took out those coveted awards.

Also honoured at the prizegiving was retiring Mako No 81 Vernon Fredericks, who played 56 games for the union. The popular loose forward’s contribution in helping bring the Mako from the lower reaches of the NPC to the top level was recognised.