Renwick’s energetic cover defence wraps up dangerous Waitohi halfback Saia Tokai during the latter stages of Saturday’s Tasman Trophy match at the Renwick Domain. Photo: Peter Jones.

Green Machine quickly into gear

Renwick and Central were quickest out of the blocks when the 2020 race for the Tasman Trophy rugby competition began in the top of the south on Saturday.

Opening salvoes in the division one showpiece were fired in brilliant Marlborough early-autumn sunshine, Renwick accounting for Waitohi 40-22 at the Renwick Domain and Central downing Moutere 50-27 at Lansdowne Park.

Both games were typical early-season affairs, teams mixing moments of co-ordination and flair with periods of muddled play and inaccurate attack. The hefty scorelines suggested defence is a “work on”, an issue to be expected at this stage of the campaign.

Renwick have their eyes set on claiming a first Marlborough title and downing the defending champs first up is a step in the right direction, although the lop-sided score line on Saturday was hardly indicative of the tussle that ensued.

At halftime the game was in the balance, the Green Machine holding a tenuous 14-10 lead after both sides had scored twice.

However the break acted as something of a turning point, the home side quickly racking up 26 unanswered points to ensure the vocal home crowd went away happy. Renwick played a more expansive game, linking well between backs and forwards and denying Waitohi field position from where they could utilise their potent close-to-the-breakdown attack.

The Tohis underlined their renowned fighting spirit with two late tries to grab a four-try bonus point, but had to bow to a better team on the day.

Outstanding up front for the victors, who were without props George Tuineau and Quinn Harrison-Jones this week, were loosies Cody Weir, who scored a hat-trick of tries, and Kurt Schollum, plus prop Sione Lonitenisi and lock Jaydn Holdaway. The new 9/10 combination of halfback Ruairidh Swan and Alex Barnsley showed promise, especially given a better platform in the second spell, while midfielders Kyle Marfell and Pecili Denicaucau threatened throughout.

Taimi Fangatua, Corey McCaffery, Taine Cragg-Love, Andre Hebberd and Dylan Burns impressed up front for the visitors, who were missing Corey Bovey and Jack Evans, while halfback Saia Tokai, midfielder Nela Samita and newcomer Dylan McManaway shone in the backline.

Renwick’s head coach Glenn Blackmore was happy to grab a first-up win but quickly acknowledged it was only a small step along the way.

“Waitohi are obviously a tough challenge first up and they brought a lot of intensity, but our goal was to get off to a positive start and the scoreline reflected that.

“In the second half Jaydn [Holdaway] and Kurt [Schollum] really stepped up and I was happy with how our set pieces went, especially with a couple of front rowers away this week.”

Meanwhile at Lansdowne Park, the Blues opened up a handy lead against the Magpies and never relinquished it, although Moutere stayed in the fight to bag a bonus point for scoring four tries.

Central led 33-10 at halftime, scoring four tries and getting good value from lock Jone Lasaganibau, plus outside backs Nigel Satherley and Eseroma Wagalutu.

The second half was less decisive, being drawn 17-17, with the Magpies, who have had an off-season battle to get numbers on the park, battling back to grab their consolation point.

Coach Laurie McGlone was happy on three counts; they had good numbers available, his charges fought untilo the final whistle and, on a personal note, he didn’t have to step into the reserves as happened so often last season.

He pointed to skipper Luke Scott and halfback Tristan Taylor as their best performers.

Scores

Renwick 40 (Rurairidh Swan, Cody Weir 3, Sione Lonitenisi, Pecili Denicaucau tries, Alex Barnsley 5 con) Waitohi 22 (Saia Tokai, Nela Samita, Tiare Tautari, Taimi Fangatua tries, Dylan McManaway con). HT: 14-10 Renwick.

Central 50 (Jeremy Foley, Jone Lasaganibau, Liam Duncan, Eseroma Wagalutu, Samuela Levu, Jesse Eising, Nigel Satherley tries, Duncan 3 con, pen, Glen Smith 2 con, Gareth Smith con) Moutere 27 (Clyde Paewai, Kaleb Avery, Haven Walsh, Dan Monaghan tries, Monaghan con, Kieran Lloyd con, pen). HT: 33-10.

Other Tasman Trophy scores

Waimea Old Boys 55 Stoke 20

Kahurangi 32 Marist 32

Wanderers 37 Nelson 14

The Marlborough-based Tasman Rugby Union staff, from left, Graeme Taylor, Dan Monaghan, Gray Cornelius, Wendy Lindstrom and Dave Paterson, with the Mitre 10 Cup. Photo: Peter Jones.

New-look team to fly Tasman flag in Marlborough

In line with the beginning of a new rugby season, Tasman rugby have set up a new-look administrative team to man their Marlborough office.

Five people will be based at the Lansdowne Park headquarters, including three newcomers to a Blenheim-based rugby role.

One face will be particularly familiar to followers of the game in this province. Graeme Taylor has given long service to the sport in this region over many years. He was chairman of the Marlborough Rugby Union from 1986-1990 and a councillor on the New Zealand Rugby Union from 1990-1996. He also served for nine years on the Marlborough District Council. Graeme is employed as a brand manager for Tasman Rugby and the Mako.

Taylor is relishing the chance to be back in the rugby community and is looking forward to the challenges each new season bring. He sees his main role as “first and foremost looking after the sponsors we have got and trying to recruit some more”.

“It’s a great opportunity for me, and for the Mako, to forge some new relationships on this side of the hill.”

After thinking his time as a rugby administrator was probably over, Taylor, who has been involved in the building industry for most of his life, said he was contacted by Tasman and felt ,”if I can help, I will help”.

“Things have obviously changed since I was previously involved – the rugby scene has gone from being very amateur to a high-class professional outfit … I’ll give it my best shot. We have had a very favourable response in the last three weeks from the local sponsors … they are all happy to be on board.”

Another newly Blenheim-based staff member who will be familiar in these parts is former Marlborough Boys’ College First XV head coach Gray Cornelius. A member of the all-conquering Mako coaching team in 2019, Gray was stationed in Nelson for the NPC season last year, but will now be based in Marlborough all year round making him more accessible to people on this side of the hill. He is still a Mako assistant coach and recently coached the successful Tasman Development team that toured the United States. He will run the union’s High Performance programme throughout the Tasman region, working with players at high performance level, plus clubs and coaches at First XV and club levels.

The third newcomer is 24-year-old Dan Monaghan, who is employed in a split role. One part of his responsibility is as a game development officer, tasked with bringing rugby to schools, plus organising tournaments, coaching courses and the like. He is also the assistant strength and conditioning coach for the Mako and will assist with the High Performance programme in Marlborough, a programme which began at the start of February. Last season Dan, who will pull on the boots for Moutere this season, played premier rugby and worked in Nelson, also in a strength and conditioning role with the Mako men and women.

The longest-serving Marlborough-based staff member is Wendy Lindstrom, who will be the community rugby advisor. This will be Wendy’s fourth season at the Blenheim offices.

Last, but not least, is referee education officer Dave Paterson. He is responsible for working with referees throughout the Tasman and Buller regions and brings vast experience to the role. It will be the second year in this role for the former senior rugby referee and first class cricket umpire.

The Tasman Trophy season will kick off on March 14, with two games scheduled for Marlborough. Renwick will play defending champs Waitohi at the Renwick Domain while Central will do battle with Moutere at Lansdowne Park. East Coast/Awatere have a first round bye. Once again six Nelson-based teams will take part – Waimea Old Boys, Stoke, Nelson, Wanderers, Kahurangi and Marist. The competition will run over 11 rounds from March 14 until May 23, with semifinals on May 27 and a final on Queen’s Birthday Monday, June 1.

The Tasman Trophy competition will be followed by a sub-union round, with semis scheduled for July 11 and the final on July 18.

The division two competition is expected to begin on Easter Saturday, April 11.

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.”