The Tasman Trophy competition is scheduled to begin on April 10, Covid permitting. Photo: Peter Jones.

Rugby draws released

Marlborough’s premier rugby competition will kick off on April 10, almost a month later than last year.

In 2020, play in the Tasman Trophy competition began on March 14, with one local round being played before the Covid lockdown was instituted. Teams then took an enforced three-month break before resuming on June 20.

This season the premier top of the south competition is scheduled to run from April 10 until the final on July 3.

The format is similar. The first part of the season involves several local derbies, plus cross-over matches against Nelson-based opponents, with points counting towards the Tasman Trophy.

Competition points earned during Tasman Trophy play also count towards the ensuing sub-union competition, which will be decided across the second part of the season.

Eleven teams will contest 11 rounds of Tasman Trophy cross-over matches, with four sides going forward to semifinals on June 26. No double-header weeks have been included in the draw at this stage.

Marlborough teams Central, Waitohi, Moutere, Awatere and Renwick will be joined by Nelson-based rivals Waimea Old Boys, Marist, Stoke, Kahurangi, Wanderers and Nelson in the battle for the prestigious trophy.

A provisional draw has been released with Awatere at home to Nelson in the first week, Moutere hosting Waimea Old Boys, Renwick at home to Stoke, Waitohi meeting Marist away and Central also on the road, playing Wanderers.

Plans are in place for a full round of Marlborough-only division one matches to follow the Tasman Trophy, running from July 10 until August 7, with a final scheduled for August 14. This option is expected to be confirmed this week.

Kahu Marfell, head of community rugby for the Tasman Rugby Union, said that, although the final dates had yet to be confirmed, it was expected that women’s club rugby would begin on April 17. Dates and teams for division two men’s rugby were yet to be finalised.

The draw for the high-profile Crusaders region First XV competition has also been released. Round one takes place on May 8 with round-robin play concluding on August 7.

Marlborough Boys’ College have drawn six home games and seven away. They begin with a fixture against Mid Canterbury Combined in Ashburton, followed by their first home fixture, against Christchurch Boys’ High School a week later.

Other home games are against Shirley BHS, Rangiora HS, St Andrew’s College, Waimea Combined and Timaru BHS.

The top-level Farah Palmer Cup competition is set to kick off on July 17 and run until September 11, while the Mitre 10 Cup will begin on August 6. The format for this year’s M10 Cup has yet to be confirmed.

MGC player Eleri James-Sitters scoots around the Vipers’ defence. Photo: Peter Jones.

Touch club season ends on a high

The Marlborough touch season ended on a high note last week with a series of enthralling and all-action finals.

On Wednesday afternoon the mixed grade deciders were contested.

The Mixed 1 grade final was a cracker, eventually won by Vipers, who downed 7201 7-6 in what was described as a “super, intense” decider.

With the scores being level 5-5 at fulltime the match went into a drop-off scenario. With each side reduced to four players, 7201 scored only for Vipers to touch down immediately after, all within the initial two-minute drop-off period.

For the final golden point period of extra time each side fielded just three players and it was Vipers who struck first, claiming the match-winner with some slick work.

The Mixed 2 final was won by Hamburger$, 4-3 over FYT. In the Mixed 3 decider Wu Tag Clan beat Mixed Bits 11-3, while Blue Ballers prevailed 11-5 over Central Whānau to take third place.

In the Mixed 4 final The Kings Touch downed Saint Clair SuperSonics 6-5 while Team Kairos won 5-4 over Pinecones to clinch third spot.

MBC players Bray Taumoefolau and Charles Tupouto’a cook up an attacking ploy. Photo: Peter Jones.
MBC players Bray Taumoefolau and Charles Tupouto’a cook up an attacking ploy. Photo: Peter Jones.

On Thursday the men’s and women’s finals were decided.

Both top grade clashes featured a Vipers team against College opponents.

The Men’s 1 grade turned into a battle royal, favourite Vipers eventually getting the job done 8-7 against a slick Marlborough Boys’ College combination led by Nikau Peipi, Jake Pacey and Hugh Robinson. Vipers relied on the skills and experience of Todd Nicholas, Quentin MacDonald, Dave Fotu and Vili Taufa.

The Women’s 1 final was more clear-cut, Marlborough Girls’ College turning the tables on the Vipers combination to prevail 6-2. Prominent for MGC were Eleri James-Sitters, Stormy Tupara, Anika Moetaua and Issy Tupouto’a. Franki Paulo, Katie Bradley and Laura-Kate Morgan stood out for Vipers.

The Men’s 2 section A decider was won 9-8 by See You On The Five, while Grizzlies accounted for Cobras 9-4 in the play-off for third and fourth.

Men’s 2 section B was won by Boners, 6-4 over Blue Ballers.

In the Men’s 3 final Simcox downed Lazy D 6-5, with Grovetown Country Hotel Rhinos beating Unevolved 4-1 for third.

The Social Men’s grade was taken out by Usual Suspects, who overcame MVM 6-3. Crowknees took third over Touch & Go, winning 6-2.

Nikau Peipi flies through the air to score a spectacular touchdown. Photo: Supplied.

Touch reps impressive

Marlborough’s representative teams at the Youth Nationals 2021 set a new benchmark for the province.

The under-16 mixed side came away from the Auckland tournament during the weekend of February 13-14 finishing a creditable sixth out of 15 teams, while the under-18 mixed team came 10th out of 13 rivals.

The U16s took their chances and managed to close out the really tight games , something they couldn’t do last year.

Their televised game against Southland was a master class by Marlborough on how to play mixed touch with Delyth James-Sitters taking on the boys in the middle and shutting down tryscoring opportunities. Hugh Robinson proved too much for all teams to handle, scoring in every game or setting up others to score.

They were placed on the tough side of the draw. Nelson, a side they beat 6-1 in a friendly two weeks ago finished fourth while Marlborough held eventual winners Bay of Plenty to the closest score of the weekend.

The U18 reps showed huge improvement, with close scores throughout except a 12-2 loss to eventual winners Te Tai Tokerau, where they couldn’t shut down the speed and aggression of their opponents.

Standout players were Kyren Taumoefolau and Nikau Peipi, with Eleri James Sitters, Anika Moetaua and Stormy Tupara proving they can foot it with the best female players in NZ.

Standout players for the U16s were Hugh Robinson, Jack Burdon and Delyth James Sitters.

In another boost for Marlborough touch, Robinson was named in the New Zealand U16 mixed team, with the Under 18 teams to be announced after senior nationals in early March.

Tour manager Anne Taylor said, “We will review the representative programme in thorough detail as we are now in a position to compete against the best, so every detail counts. These results have been four years in the making and every year we compete we get better.

“The scores don’t always reflect the game as the pressure and competitiveness of touch is huge.

“Everyone in Marlborough Touch is proud of Hugh as he was the standout male player across all teams in the competition. He was absolutely outstanding and it is great to see him recognised.”

Under-21 and open mixed teams will travel to Christchurch in early March to play in the senior nationals.

 

Youth Nationals results:

Under 16 Mixed: BOP lost 4-1;  Manawatu lost 9-7; Southland won 8-5; Otago won 5-3; Te Tai Tokerau won 6-4; Counties Manakau won 7-6; Auckland won 6-5. Play off for 5/6 – lost to Southland 7-4 (Plate Final).

Under 18 mixed: lost to Taranaki 10-7; beat Waikato Black 5-4; lost to Waikato Red 8-5; lost to BOP 8-5; lost to Te Tai Tokerau 12-2. Bowl Final – Lost 6-3 Whanganui.

Renwick winger Mesake Bula dives in at the corner to score a try during Saturday’s Awarua Park Rugby 7s tournament. Photo: Peter Jones.

Sevens action proves popular

Although visiting teams picked up the main titles at the inaugural Awarua Park 7s tournament on Saturday, the event was hailed as a “fantastic day of sevens action”.

Laurie McGlone, a member of the Moutere Rugby Club’s organising committee, said they “were really happy with how it went”.

“The number of teams that supported the event was fantastic … we have had plenty of positive comments about how it was run and we plan to make it an annual fixture.

“The standard of footy across all divisions was excellent and it was great to see some players stand out who would otherwise not have been given the opportunity.”

Eighteen teams were involved – six in division one, eight in division two and four in the women’s grade, with Laurie suggesting there is room for more in 2021.

The men’s division one title was won by the slick combination from Marist, who were unbeaten in pool play, beat local side Renwick 29-10 in the semifinal, then downed Kahurangi 24-19 in a thrilling final. Kahurangi beat home team Moutere 33-0 in the other semi.

The other Marlborough-based side involved, Waitohi, downed Wanderers 39-7 in pool play but narrowly missed a place in the semis.

The women’s title was taken out by Waimea, who also won three-from-three in round robin play. They accounted for Riwaka 34-19 in the final.

In men’s division two, Stoke ran away with the title, downing Marist 33-0 in the decider. In the semis Marist beat Valley Stags 27-26 while Stoke downed local team Old Boys 21-7. Two other local sides, Awatere and Moutere, competed in this division but were unable to pick up a win.

Luke Romano wins another lineout at Lansdowne Park on Saturday night. Photo: Shuttersport.

Canterbury turn season around at Lansdowne

Tasman’s uninspiring Mitre 10 Cup premiership display against Canterbury on Saturday may not prove as costly to the Mako play-off hopes as initially thought.

Going into the 29-0 defeat at Lansdowne Park, Tasman, fresh off an away win over Wellington, lay second on the premiership points table, justifiably eying a home semifinal.

At the other end of the table languished Canterbury, an unfamiliar position for the perennial pace-setters, with the threat of relegation looming large.

Teetering above the trapdoor, the Red and Blacks responded by producing the sort of performance that has underlined their previous dominance of the provincial scene.

Their emphatic 29-0 victory at Lansdowne Park on Saturday evening appeared to have assured their participation in the top echelon next year and derailed Tasman’s chances of hosting a semi this season.

However, a combination of upset results in what is quickly turning into the closest premiership battle for many seasons has seen Tasman remain in second position at the end of the round, with Canterbury still equal bottom of the table.

Now, although they face a tricky away match against Otago on Saturday, the Mako at least have their semifinal future in their own hands.

Things were not looking so positive at the final whistle on Saturday though.

Putting their patchy form this season behind them, Canterbury took their frustrations out on a Mako side who undoubtedly knew what was coming, but were unable to match the defensive intensity and clinical finishing that came their way. Their unrelenting work without the ball quickly created hesitation in the Tasman attack, forcing them to chase the game from early stages, rather than build into it.

Given the familiarity of so many of the players through Crusaders connections, it was perhaps no wonder that, at times, it appeared as if Canterbury had read Tasman’s script.

The influence of former All Blacks Luke Romano and Mitchell Drummond cannot be underestimated. Pivotal players when Tasman lost to Canterbury in the 2018 semifinal, they repeated the dose. Romano’s disruptive lineout presence, ability to slow Tasman’s ball down and general work rate proved constant thorns in the home side’s flesh. Drummond continues to haunt his former home town team, pulling all the right strings with coolness, slick passing and clever kicking options.

The impact of the opening try, to Canterbury winger Ngatungane Punivai in the third minute, should not be underestimated.

It not only gave Canterbury the belief that they have been struggling for, it also put the Mako firmly on the back foot from the outset, a situation compounded by early injury concerns.

Mako lock Quinten Strange said while Canterbury, “with their backs to the wall”, played well, some of the damage was self-inflicted.

“We were just one or two percent off tonight, in a few areas of the game we were our own worst enemy. At set piece we weren’t executing … we were throwing those 50-50s a bit much, trying to score off first phases and they had a good plan, a good strategy.

“As we know, if you don’t turn up against Canterbury they are going to punish you.”

And that they did, Saturday’s defeat ending an 11-game winning run at Lansdowne Park, with Tasman’s last defeat in Blenheim coming against Auckland in September 2015.

However, if Tasman’s supporters have discovered anything about their team over recent years, it is their ability to rebound quickly from adversity.

In the age-old cliché, they “have plenty to work on” over the coming week.

No-one could fault their intent and effort on Saturday, but there seemed to be more spring in Canterbury’s step, perhaps a result of being pushed into a corner and facing a previously-unthinkable fate.

The Mako will be looking for the same desperation when they travel to Dunedin.

As Strange suggests, “it’s such a tight competition, whoever turns up on the day is going to win.

“That’s the beauty of this competition … we have to make sure we get the right mindset heading into next weekend.”

Mitre 10 Cup premiership table with one round remaining: Auckland 34, Tasman 29, Waikato 29, Bay of Plenty 26, North Harbour 25, Canterbury 24, Wellington 24.

Tasman flanker Sione Havili was in outstanding form in Porirua. Photo: Shuttersport.

Mako forwards tame Lions

The Tasman forward pack answered their doubters in the best possible fashion on Saturday, setting up a commanding 19-3 victory over Wellington in Porirua.

After being dominated up front during the side’s only losses this season, to North Harbour and Auckland, doubts began to surface over the potency of the Mako forwards.

However, after paving the way for a comfortable win over Southland last weekend they stepped up to another level at the weekend, totally outplaying one of the leading premiership side’s packs.

The battle of the 2019 Mitre 10 Cup premiership finalists was expected to be close, especially given their respective records this year.

Interestingly, only five of the 13 Mako forwards named for the decider at Trafalgar Park last year fronted up for Saturday’s rematch – Andrew Makalio, who impressed in his 50th game for the union, the returning Quinten Strange, Sione Havili, who gets better with each outing, Isaac Salmon and Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta.

In contrast, Wellington fielded eight of their forward mix from the 2019 final.

However it was the visiting side at Jerry Collins Stadium who looked the more powerful, cohesive, organised outfit. Their scrum held the upper hand for most of the match, their lineout was sound despite tricky conditions and both the Mako tries came from unstoppable lineout drives. Allied to that slick set piece work came some bruising defence from the big men, ensuring Wellington’s ball-carriers rarely breached the gain line.

Mako co-head coach Andrew Goodman was “stoked” by his side’s efforts today, especially the forward display.

“That was an important win for our season really,” he said.

When the Mako turned at halftime with an 11-point lead, despite playing with a strong wind at their backs, the game was very much in the balance, but Goodman said his side’s leaders pulled the right strings.

“[The wind] was very gusty and hard to play into, but I felt our nine [Finlay Christie] and 10 [Mitch Hunt] played really well in the second half. However it was the forwards today who laid the platform for that victory … the maul, the scrum, just all the work they had to get through.

“Isaac Salmon, both at scrum time and on defence, was outstanding. A lot of the boys that have been given more of an opportunity this year stood up today. I’m really proud of them.”

Goodman also praised the input of experienced squad members Ethan Blackadder and Strange. “Even when they have been unable to take the field they have been massive for us this year with all the work they have done with the lads, off the field.”

The return of Strange, an All Black-in-waiting, to the field could not have come at a better time for the Mako, his presence an inspiration to his team mates.

“It’s great to have his leadership back,” said Goodman, “he’s driven standards really high during the last couple of weeks when he’s been back on the training pitch so we hope to get a few more minutes from him next week.

The Mako, who briefly returned to the top of the premiership table with their victory, meet cellar-dwellers Canterbury in Blenheim on Saturday, kick off 7.05pm.

David Havili crosses for the first of his two tries on Sunday. Photo: Shuttersport.

Mako savage Stags in second spell

A second half resurgence against Southland at Trafalgar Park eased Tasman up to second place on the Mitre 10 Cup premiership ladder on Sunday.

Waikato sit atop on 27 points with three rounds remaining before the play-offs, but the Mako and Auckland are snapping at their heels on 25 and Wellington are just a point adrift on 24. Tasman have matches against traditional provincial powerhouses Wellington, Canterbury and Otago to come.

On Sunday, they needed to get their campaign back on track after being dominated by Auckland the previous week, but found the early going tough against a Stags side intent on mounting punishing defence and breakdown pressure. Consequently the home side, who had the wind at their backs in the first half, led only 7-3 at the break, before romping away after oranges to win 47-10.

Tasman were their own worst enemy at times, spurning several clear-cut scoring opportunities, a situation they remedied in the second 40.

Co-head coach Clarke Dermody said his side were “a bit more focussed on execution” in the second spell.

“There was a lot of space [in the first half] and the boys were seeing it, but were just rushing things a bit.

“Sometimes when there is heaps of space on the field you rush to get the ball there … when we started building phases and not forcing off-loads the game started to unravel and play out like we thought it would.

“I’m pleased with how we finished and how our guys reacted after halftime.”

Ultimately Tasman bagged seven tries, six of them converted, as the hefty defensive workload required by Southland began to take its toll late in the game.

“Southland are a good team,” said Dermody, “they weren’t going to go away, we had to try and put them away, that’s the pleasing thing.”

No 8 Taina Fox-Matamua, playing his first game for the season, was Tasman’s first half tryscorer, while skipper David Havili, centre Fetuli Paea, flanker Sione Havili and Mitch Hunt dotted down in the second spell. Hunt landed four conversions and Tim O’Malley two.

Asked if his side had needed a confidence boost after last week’s loss, Dermody said the side prepared “pretty much the same” each week.

“Then it just comes down to game day execution … obviously we didn’t quite get that right in Auckland last week and there is some stuff to work on from today so we will do what we always do, pull the game apart and put it back together for Saturday [against Wellington].”

A feature of Sunday’s effort was the debut of schoolboy loose forward star Anton Segner from the bench, while it was a first outing for the season for Sam Moli and Fox-Matamua.

“Anton came on and made a real difference,” said Dermody, “and I was pleased for Sam who is coming back from long-term injury. Stoked to see those young fellas go well.”

Tasman turned out on Sunday in brown-and-white hooped Golden Bay-Motueka jerseys to celebrate 100 years of existence for the sub-union, making it a special occasion for David Havili who represented Golden Bay Motueka in the junior grades, along with his brother, father and grandfather.

The Mako camp will be doing some serious soul-searching this week. Photo: Shuttersport.

Auckland is a bridge too far for Mako

One pointless trip to Auckland can be dismissed as a “bad day at the office”; a second shocker in the City of Sails represents a disturbing trend for the Tasman Mako.

The defending champs began the 2020 Mitre 10 Cup as competition favourites but, after successive away defeats to North Harbour and Auckland, their odds will be quickly lengthening.

And it’s not just the fact they have lost a couple of games up north, it’s the fashion in which they have been beaten that will have the team’s brains trust scratching their collective heads.

In both matches they have struggled for on-going continuity and cohesion, being comprehensively outplayed for long periods. The disciplined, ruthless edge that marked their 2019 triumph is missing. There is no shortage of effort, in fact at times they appear to be trying too hard, forcing passes and choosing high-risk options rather than building pressure.

A frustrated Mako skipper David Havili said after Saturday’s match, lost 31-10, “we can’t just expect it is going to happen on game day”, perhaps pinpointing a lack of intensity compared with their rivals.

“Our game just comes back down to our mind set and making sure that we turn up on Saturday with the right attitude,” he added.

“It’s pretty tough to swallow … we need to look at ourselves, we can’t leak points like that in this competition or we will just get put away.”

From the opening whistle of Saturday’s match at Coopers Catch Park, temporarily named after a Kaikoura fish and chip shop therefore nominally a home ground for the Mako, the Tasman troops looked listless, especially up front. Auckland’s first two tries stemmed from the irresistible work of their forwards close to the line, Tasman’s goal line defence not up to the mark.

Some sloppy lineout work compounded the issue while the hunger to secure 50/50 ball right across the park was clearly absent, especially in the first half when the damage was done.

Stopping the bleeding in a second spell they won 10-7 will be of little consolation to a proud Mako squad and support staff, who have set particularly high standards in recent times.

A small consolation for the Mako can be gleaned from last year’s results. In round robin play, Auckland were swamped 40-0 by Tasman, but the northerners turned it around in the semifinal, pushing the Mako all the way during an 18-9 loss in Blenheim.

However, some areas of the Mako game need immediate attention if the heroics of the previous campaign are to be repeated. Tasman are still well-placed for a semifinal position, but with games against the likes of Wellington and Canterbury, both play-off contenders, to come that can certainly not be taken for granted.

Next up for the Mako is a home match against Southland at Trafalgar Park on Sunday, kick off 2.05pm.

Mark Telea dives over for Tasman’s second try at Trafalgar Park on Sunday. Photo: Shuttersport.

Mako quickly return to winner’s circle 

Seven days are a long time in sport, especially in a weekly rugby competition.

Going from an error-ridden, ill-disciplined performance against Harbour last Sunday to a clinical effort against Bay of Plenty a week later, Tasman underlined on Sunday how quickly fortunes in our national provincial rugby showpiece can change.

The Mako accounted for a handy Steamers crew 33-7, the final score certainly no indication of the amount of work the home side had to put in to claim the five points which propelled them back to the top of the premiership table.

With Nelson turning on a difficult day to play attractive rugby it was always going to be a tough afternoon for the Mako as they strove to put the Harbour horrors behind them. As they did against Waikato at the same venue a few weeks ago, the home side set up their win with a gritty, defence-orientated effort into the wind in the first half.

Turning with a 12-7 advantage, and aided by a yellow card to Bay of Plenty winger Chase Tiatia, the Mako twisted the screw, both territorially and possession-wise, effectively icing the game with their fourth try in the 53rd minute.

That touchdown, by outstanding loosie Sione Havili after his pack had shunted Bay of Plenty off the ball under their posts, brought great satisfaction to the Mako coaching staff, especially after their set piece woes against Harbour last week.

Co-head coach Andrew Goodman said, “The boys put in a lot of work on our scrummaging every week so it was pleasing to get some reward out of that … especially that pushover try which was great for the big boys who had got through a mountain of work in the first half … defended really well and had some good carries into a strong breeze.”

Goodman was happy with how the team bounced back after their previous performance.

“I’m stoked to get a response … it wasn’t always pretty but you could see the attitude was where it needed to be. There was a lot of improvement in our defense which we have been working on during the week.

“I thought our drivers managed the game really well with some of their kicking.”

He was especially happy with loosies Havili and No 8 Hugh Renton who were strong “on both sides of the ball”. The efforts of the back three, Leicester Fainga’anuku, David Havili and Mark Telea, in fielding high kicks safely and making good decisions was another feature.

“There are still so many improvements we can make as a team, that’s the exciting thing.”

Next up for the Mako is a trip to Eden Park and another meeting with Auckland, who Tasman beat at the semifinal stage of last year’s competition.

“It’s a great place to play and a tough place to get a win. We have only managed that a couple of times in our history,” he added.

The 2020 Mitre 10 Cup is shaping as one of the tightest competitions in recent times, with no teams taking control, in either premiership of championship divisions.

Last year the Tasman Mako quickly asserted their dominance, being tagged favourites from the early stages, this time any team can beat any other on their day.

“There are a lot more championship teams tipping up premiership teams,” said Goodman, “more so than what has happened in recent times. It’s a really great competition.”

Isaac Ross played for three Super Rugby franchises. Photo: Supplied.

Mako lock in former All Black

Former All Blacks lock Isaac Ross has been brought into the Tasman Mako rugby squad for the remainder of their Mitre 10 Cup campaign.

With 2020 All Black Quinten Strange and last year’s standout Pari Pari Parkinson ruled out of contention through injury, plus local back-up options Antonio Shalfoon and Max Hicks also struggling to shake off injuries, Ross was seen as a handy addition to the squad at a crucial time of the season.

The 35-year-old, who turned out on eight occasions for the All Blacks, has been playing with the NTT Communications Shining Arcs side in Japan since 2011 and will add vast experience to a pack that has lost a wealth of senior players from their previous campaign.

Ross followed in the footsteps of his father, Jock Ross – a 1981 All Blacks lock, when he pulled on an All Black jersey for the first time in 2009.

At domestic level Isaac represented Canterbury and has played for the Chiefs, Crusaders and Highlanders at Super Rugby level since his debut in 2007.

He has played 53 games for Canterbury, 23 for the Crusaders, nine for the Highlanders and 11 for the Chiefs, plus 83 for the Shining Arcs.

He joins Alex Ainley, Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta and Mahonri Ngakuru among the Mako locking brigade.