Jamie Spowart scored the second try for the Mako Development XV in Houston. Photo: Shuttersport.

Mako prevail in USA

The Tasman Mako Development Team opened their two-match tour of the USA with a 29-19 win over the Houston Sabrecats in Houston on Sunday [NZ time].

The young-looking Mako outfit dominated the early stages of the first spell, tries to Sam Matenga and Jamie Spowart seeing them race out to a 12-0 lead. However their Texan rivals came back and by halftime the home side led 14-12 after notching two converted tries.

Five minutes into the second spell centre Caleb Coventry latched onto a wayward pass to push the Mako ahead 17-14, Sam Briggs’ conversion giving the visitors a 19-14 lead.

Briggs added a penalty on the 60 minute mark, before the Sabrecats scored their third to close the gap to 22-19 with 10 minutes remaining.

The match-clincher came five minutes later, substitute Briggs stealing the ball from a Houston attacker then weaving his way 60m to the tryline, eluding a series of defenders on the way. His conversion gave the home side a 10 point advantage which they held until the final whistle. His game-defining efforts also earned him the man of the match award.

Their second, and final, game is against Seattle Seawolves on Monday January 27 [NZ time], kick off 4.30pm.

The under-12 girls, who completed an unbeaten season. Photo: Supplied.

Touch teams strike gold in Christchurch

Marlborough’s junior touch teams wound up 2019 in fine style with a stellar showing at the recent South Island age group championships in Christchurch.

Ninety players, coaches and managers travelled south to represent the province at the Southern IPS event, six teams taking on the best the Mainland could offer.

Marlborough’s effort at the annual event was described as “one of the best ever” by local touch administrators, underlining the burgeoning strength of the sport in this province.

Showing the way at Burnside Park for the Marlborough contingent were the under-16 mixed side and the under-12 girls, both of whom claimed gold medals.

The under-16 mixed side, coached by Serena and MacDougall, beat Canterbury in a thrilling final, Nikau Peipi scoring the vital try in a drop off after the scores were level 5-5 at fulltime. Hugh Robinson, Jack Burdon, Peipi, Jake Pacey and Stormy Tupara all had exceptional tournaments, said the coaches.

The victorious Marlborough under-16 mixed side. Photo: Supplied.
The victorious Marlborough under-16 mixed side. Photo: Supplied.

The opened the tournament by beating Otago 18 11-6, then lost a nail-biter to Canterbury 6-7.  Next came a 3-3 draw with Otago  and a 6-3 win over Canterbury 18 before the 6-5 final result.

The under-12 girls, coached by Todd Nicholas and Peter Flynn, capped a superb unbeaten season with a dominant display in Christchurch, conceding just one try.

The beat Otago 3-0, Canterbury Black (B) 5-0, Canterbury White (C) 12-0, Southland 9-0, Canterbury Red (A) 2-0 then downed Canterbury Red (A) 5-1 in the final. The Marlborough girls scored 36 tries while having their line crossed just once.

In their previous tournament, in Nelson during November, they beat Canterbury White 8-0, Canterbury Black 7-1, Nelson 7-0, West Coast 3-0, Marlborough Grey 7-0 and Motueka 8-1, scoring 40 tries and conceding just two.

The other four Marlborough teams in action in Christchurch also performed with distinction. The under-12 boys side and the under-14 girls sides both finished fifth, the under-14 boys came fourth while the under-14 mixed team fought their way into third.

The Southern IPS tournament will be the last tournament facilitated by Touch New Zealand for this age group as they are falling into line with Sport New Zealand and no longer running under-10, under-12 or under-14 tournaments.

The next assignment for Marlborough’s junior touch sides will be a trip to the national champs in Auckland in February. The under-16 mixed side and an under-18 mixed combination will travel north.

The victorious Marlborough teams in Christchurch.

Under 12 Girls Red – coach Todd Nicholas and Peter Flynn; manager Tash Flynn: Poppy Parkinson, Sophia Nicholas,  Bree Flynn,  Ava Marcroft,  Tilly Tupouto’a,  Isla Tilbury,  Kara Beattie,  Isla Watene,  Olivia Brown,  Elizabeth Pousima,  Sammie Joyce,  Pippa Clarke.

Under 16 Mixed – coach Serena MacDougall and Matt MacDougall; manager Laura Murphy: Jake Pacey, Patrick Thompson, Hugh Robinson, Bray Taumoefolau, Kobe MacDougall, Will Flynn, Jack Burdon, Nikau Peipi, Charles Tupouto’a, Jimmy Morris,  Delyth James-Sitters, Chelsea Martin, Nikita Gapper, Stormy Tupara,  Ataliaya Lambert, Rosie Bowers.

Anton Oliver has been named to lead the MBC First XV. Photo: Supplied.

Best of the best – choosing the top MBC First XV of the professional era no easy task

Soon after Nelson College won the 2019 UC Championship, a group of Nelson rugby folk were inspired to put their heads together in a bid to come up with a team containing the greatest 1st XV players from that famous school, comprised of those who played in the modern era, post-1995.

In the spirit of the festive season, and just for the hell of it, I have endeavoured to repeat the exercise for Marlborough Boys’ College, with a little help of course from some learned rugby followers on this side of the hill.

Leon MacDonald slots in at fullback for MBC. Photo: Shuttersport.
Leon MacDonald slots in at fullback for MBC. Photo: Shuttersport.

Obviously, in such a formidable rugby school, selection was extremely difficult – especially in positions such as hooker and first five where MBC have produced a string of top players.

However, with some mixing and matching position-wise, we have come up with a side that would surely prove far too good for the Nelson College outfit, MBC possessing hard-nosed physicality up front, plus superior skills and pace out the back.

Having five All Blacks in the MBC mix hints at the quality of the side, and how tough it was to make the cut for the chosen XV. Leading the side will be former All Blacks skipper Anton Oliver, who has been chosen at No 8, the position he filled with such aplomb at MBC.

Joe Wheeler has been chosen at lock. Photo: Shuttersport.
Joe Wheeler has been chosen at lock. Photo: Shuttersport.

To ensure the playing field is [relatively] level for a hypothetical matchup with Nelson College, former MBC head boy and World Cup referee Ben O’Keeffe would be on the whistle, with former MBC teacher Kieran Keane coaching the MBC combination.

Without further ado, here are the greatest Marlborough Boys’ College and Nelson College 1st XVs of the modern era:

 

Marlborough Boys’ College

  1. Atu Moli (All Black)
  2. Quentin MacDonald (NZ Maori)
  3. Hamish Cochrane (NZ under-20)
  4. Joe Wheeler (Highlanders, NZ Maori)
  5. Jamie Joseph (All Black)
  6. Vernon Fredericks (Crusaders)
  7. Braden Stewart (Tasman)
  8. Anton Oliver (All Black) – captain
  9. Toby Morland (Highlanders, Chiefs, Blues)
  10. Jeremy Manning (Newcastle, Munster)
  11. Hayden Pedersen (Highlanders, NZ Maori)
  12. David Hill (All Black)
  13. Aaron Bancroft (Highlanders)
  14. Kade Poki (Crusaders, Highlanders)
  15. Leon MacDonald (All Black)

 

Nelson College

  1. Wyatt Crockett (All Black)
  2. Ratu Vugakoto (Fiji)
  3. Sak Taulafo (Samoa)
  4. Quinn Strange (Crusaders, NZ Schools)
  5. Kahu Marfell (NZ U19)
  6. Anton Segner (NZ Schools)
  7. Tevita Koloamatangi (Tonga)
  8. Ita Vaea (Brumbies)
  9. Mitch Drummond (All Black)
  10. Mitch Hunt (Crusaders)
  11. Leicester Fainga’anuku (Crusaders, NZ Schools)
  12. David Havili (All Black)
  13. Tom Marshall (Crusaders, Chiefs,)
  14. James Lowe (NZ Maori)
  15. James Marshall (NZ Sevens)

 

As the Nelson side’s selectors [Peter Grigg, Kahu Marfell and Andrew Goodman] suggested, “selecting a team such as this is an art, not a science”.

“There are numerous players with outstanding credentials and this selection is a very subjective exercise. We apologise to anybody we have offended with non-selection but are willing to discuss them over appropriate refreshments.”

The same qualifying terms apply on this side of the hill … let the debate begin.

Fetuli Paea’s strong NPC form has earned him a Super Rugby contract. Photo: Shuttersport.

Mako men dotted through Super Rugby squads

Sixteen members of the title-winning 2019 Tasman Mako squad have been picked up by Super Rugby teams for the forthcoming season.

As expected the majority will be based at the defending champion Crusaders’ base in Christchurch.

Ethan Blackadder, Andrew Makalio, Quinten Strange, Leicester Faingaanuku, David Havili and Will Jordan return to the Crusaders while Mitre 10 Cup standouts Sione Havili and Fetuli Paea have also received a call-up.

Former Crusader Mitch Hunt shifts camp this year, heading south to the Highlanders where he will be joined by Mako team mates Pari Pari Parkinson and Shannon Frizell. Former Marlborough club player Te Ariki Ben-Nicholas has also been picked up this year by the ‘Landers.

Atu Moli and Alex Nankivell return to the Chiefs, with young prop Ryan Coxon joining the Hamilton-based club for 2020.

Halfback Finlay Christie has been recruited by head coach Leon MacDonald for the Blues, after playing occasionally for the Hurricanes this year. Also on the Blues’ books is Tasman hooker Ray Niuia, who played in the Rugby World Cup for Samoa.

Tyrel Lomax, who has left the Highlanders franchise, is the sole Mako man at the Hurricanes.

The competition begins on January 31 with a match at Eden Park between the Blues and the Chiefs.

Super rugby squads 2020:

BLUES

Beauden Barrett, Otere Black, Finlay Christie, Caleb Clarke, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Matt Duffie, Kurt Eklund, TJ Faiane, Blake Gibson, Josh Goodhue, Jack Heighton, Alex Hodgman, Jordan Hyland, Akira Ioane, Rieko Ioane, Tony Lamborn, Ezekiel Lindenmuth, Sione Mafileo, Joe Marchant, Emoni Narawa, Ray Niuia, Sam Nock, Jared Page, Dalton Papalii, James Parsons, Stephen Perofeta, Jacob Pierce, Harry Plummer, Marcel Renata, Waimana Riedlinger-Kapa, Tom Robinson, Jonathan Ruru, Hoskins Sotutu, Mark Telea, Tanielu Tele’a, James Tucker, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Patrick Tuipulotu, Ofa Tuungafasi, Baden Wardlaw.

CHIEFS

Nathan Harris, Bradley Slater, Samisoni Taukei’aho, Ryan Coxon, Nepo Laulala, Atunaisa Moli, Reuben O’Neill, Aidan Ross, Angus Ta’avao, Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Tyler Ardron, Michael Allardice, Laghlan McWhannell, Lachlan Boshier, Mitchell Brown, Sam Cane, Pita Gus Sowakula, Luke Jacobson, Mitchell Karpik, Dylan Nel. Lisati Milo-Harris, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Brad Weber, Aaron Cruden, Tiaan Falcon, Damian McKenzie, Kaleb Trask, Orbyn Leger, Anton Lienert-Brown, Tumua Manu, Alex Nankivell, Bailyn Sullivan, Solomon Alaimalo, Sam McNicol, Kini Naholo, Etene Nanai-Seturo, Shaun Stevenson, Quinn Tupaea, Sean Wainui.

CRUSADERS

Michael Alaalatoa, Harry Allan, Scott Barrett (c), Ethan Blackadder, George Bower, Tom Christie, Whetukamokamo Douglas, Mitchell Dunshea, Cullen Grace, Billy Harmon, Sione Havili, Oliver Jager, Andrew Makalio, Brodie McAlister, Joe Moody, Luke Romano, Ethan Roots, Tom Sanders, Quinten Strange, Codie Taylor, Isi Tuungafasi, George Bridge, Fergus Burke, Brett Cameron, Mitchell Drummond, Ere Enari, Braydon Ennor, Leicester Faingaanuku, Inga Finau, Jack Goodhue, Bryn Hall, David Havili, Will Jordan, Manasa Mataele, Dallas McLeod, Richie Mo’unga, Fetuli Paea, Sevu Reece.

HIGHLANDERS

Liam Coltman, Ash Dixon, Ricky Jackson, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Josh Iosefa-Scott, Ayden Johnstone, Siate Tokolahi, Jeff Thwaites, Ethan De Groot, Pari Pari Parkinson, Josh Dickson, Jack Whetton, Manaaki Selby-Rickit, James Lentjes, Dillon Hunt, Marino Mikaele Tu’u, Shannon Frizell, Sione Misiloi*, Zane Kapeli*, Teariki Ben-Nicholas, Jesse Parete, Aaron Smith, Kayne Hammington, Folau Fakatava, Bryn Gatland, Josh Ioane, Mitch Hunt, Rob Thompson, Patelesio Tomkinson, Teihorangi Walden, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Scott Gregory, Ngane Punivai, Jona Nareki, Tevita Nabura, Josh McKay, Michael Collins, Chris Kuridrani, Connor Garden-Bachop.

HURRICANES

Pouri Rakete-Stones, Fraser Armstrong, Alex Fidow, Tyrel Lomax, Ben May, Xavier Numia, Asafo Aumua, Dane Coles, Ricky Riccitelli, James Blackwell, Kane Le’aupepe, Liam Mitchell, Scott Scrafton, Isaia Walker-Leawere Vaea Fifita, Du’Plessis Kirifi, Reed Prinsep, Ardie Savea, Murphy Taramai, Devan Flanders, Gareth Evans, TJ Perenara, Jamie Booth, Jonathan Taumateine, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Fletcher Smith, Ngani Laumape, Vince Aso, Billy Proctor, Peter Umaga-Jensen, Danny Toala, Kobus van Wyk, Wes Goosen, Ben Lam, Jonah Lowe, Salesi Rayasi, Jordie Barrett, James Marshall, Chase Tiatia.

Renwick player Falaula Fotu-Moala heads for the tryline during the early rounds of the Turf Hotel sevens today. Photo: Peter Jones.

Renwick dominate sevens on home turf

The Renwick men’s sevens team made the most of home field advantage to take out the second leg of the Turf Hotel Tasman sevens today.

The Green Machine beat a dangerous Wanderers side in the men’s cup final, prevailing 15-5 at the Renwick Domain. Earlier, in the semifinals, Renwick accounted for Kahurangi 49-5 while Wanderers beat Waimea Old Boys 24-5 in the other.

Moutere player Grace Andrews on her way to a try at the Renwick Sevens. Photo: Peter Jones.
Moutere player Grace Andrews on her way to a try at the Renwick Sevens. Photo: Peter Jones.

The men’s plate final was won by Marist, who downed Central 24-12, leaving the Blues in sixth position. The men’s play-off for third and fourth was won by Waimea Old Boys, who downed Kahurangi 15-12.

The women’s title was won by Waimea Old Boys, who beat Wanderers 32-14 in an entertaining final. Waimea added the second leg crown to their triumph in Motueka last weekend, meaning they take the overall title.

Their men’s team did the same, their third placing coupled with last week’s victory handing them the overall crown.

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.”