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.

Tasman centre Fetuli Paea was in fine form at Trafalgar Park on Sunday. Photo: Shuttersport.

Lesser lights illuminate Mako victory

It will be “home sweet home” all the way for Tasman as they approach the business end of their Mitre 10 Cup season.

Although the Mako had actually clinched top spot in the premiership round robin standings before they kicked off at Trafalgar Park on Sunday, North Harbour having done them a favour by tipping over Wellington on Friday, they underlined their lofty status with another dominant display.

Now they know that as long as they progress in the NPC play-offs they will be performing in front of their home fans, starting with a semi-final against the fourth-qualifier in Blenheim, expected to be confirmed for October 15. If they get through that encounter, Nelson will host the final a week later.

What must have been doubly pleasing for the Mako management was the fact several of the squad’s unsung heroes stepped up against Northland and played major roles in their 52-6 victory.

Players like Tasman B skipper Taina Fox-Matamua who slipped into the No 8 jersey with aplomb. Mobile lock Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta was another to impress, along with props Ryan Coxon and Sam Matenga as the Mako tested their forward depth in the best way possible.

Wider out, centre Fetuli Paea showed he is well capable of breaking defences at this level and picked up the team’s man of the match award, while prolific try-scorer Jamie Spowart continues to put pressure on the established wingers. Replacement halfback Declan Smith, another Tasman B stand-out, had limited minutes but did not look out of place either.

Realistically, none of those seven appear first-choice options for Tasman at play-off time, underlining the talent-base cleverly built by coaches Andrew Goodman, Clarke Dermody, Shane Christie and Gray Cornelius.

However, the second-stringers’ efforts against the Taniwha will not only provide some selection headaches, it will also help the coaching staff sleep easier over the next couple of few weeks as injury concerns build.

Admittedly, Northland have had a horror season but showed they were up for a battle at Trafalgar, at least for the first 60 minutes. They made Tasman earn most of their eight tries, forcing the Mako to build phases and look after the ball.

This was a tough match, particularly mentally, for the home side, coming as it did after such an emphatic win over the defending champions and with top qualifying position in the bag. It would have been easy to let standards slip, and at times the Mako certainly fell below their accepted accuracy and efficiency levels. The urge to entertain must have also been strong, especially in pristine rugby conditions, but generally they worked hard to stay within the structures and systems that have served them well so far.

Co-head coach Goodman said there were some “little frustrations with our execution and option-taking” in the first half but he was happy to claim the five points.

“The boys fixed that up though and there was some pretty good stuff out there, we scored some good tries.”

Facing a trip to Napier next Saturday to meet the high-flying Hawke’s Bay side, the big challenge for the Mako coaches will be how to balance the need to maintain the winning momentum, while ensuring key players are fighting fit for the play-offs.

Goodman said the game against the Magpies was an ideal fixture heading into the semi-final and suggested the Mako management would field a strong side for their final round robin encounter.

“Hawke’s Bay are a quality side, they have lost just one game all season.

“We want to have a good performance heading into the first final … which will give us confidence for the next week, hopefully keep that roll on.

“Momentum is a big factor … our boys are already talking about going up there, so it’s going to be a great challenge.”

That match kicks off at 2.35pm on Saturday.

Centre Wairakau Greig had an outstanding game against Northland today. Photo: Shuttersport.

Tasman women move to quarterfinals

The Tasman women’s rugby team were highly competitive, but ultimately lost their Farah Palmer Cup match 35-29 to Northland in Whangarei on Saturday afternoon.

The Taniwha women led 13-5 at the break, a first half try to outstanding winger Rebecca Kersten keeping the Mako in touch.

After oranges the home side shot out to an 18-5 lead before Tasman clawed their way back into the contest through a try to centre Wai Greig. Trailing by just six points at 18-12, then later at 30-24, the Mako were well in the contest, but Northland found a stronger finish to take the honours and clinch third place on the championship ladder.

The Mako end up fifth of the six teams but are still in the race for end-of-season honours. The top two sides, Otago and Hawke’s Bay move straight to the semifinals while the bottom four play-off to see who will join them. Tasman travel to take on North Harbour, a side they lost 22-10 to in Blenheim earlier in the season, while Northland will host bottom-placed Taranaki next week.

Tasman coach Chris Binns said his side had created enough opportunities to do better on Saturday, and with better option-taking, could have stolen the match at the end.

“We weren’t far off the pace. They actually played pretty bloody well,” he said. “I couldn’t fault the girls’ commitment to the cause but Northland are a good side.”

Binns was once again pleased with the efforts of his backline, who were responsible for all their five tries.

He said the midfield pairing of Wai Greig, their player of the day, and Jess Drummond was outstanding, creating multiple opportunities. Kersten who, along with Hayley Hutana, scored a brace of tries was another to impress.

Binns said the team management were confident they could put up a strong showing against Harbour.

“We let some opportunities slip last time we met … that was week one and a lot of learning has taken place since then. We will be travelling north with a fair bit of confidence.”

Northland 35 Tasman 29 (Rebecca Kersten 2, Hayley Hutana 2, Wai Greig tries, Hutana 2 con). HT: 13-5.

A duo of Hawke’s Bay defenders bundle Tasman halfback Pippa Andrews into touch near the corner flag at Trafalgar Park. Photo: Shuttersport.

Tui too strong for Tasman women

The Hawke’s Bay Tui showed at Trafalgar Park on Friday evening just why they are leading the way in the Farah Palmer Cup championship race.

They were much too clinical and physical for the Tasman Mako women, prevailing 55-5 after holding a 27-5 advantage at the break.

The first half was a virtual procession until the final seven minutes when the home side finally awoke.

Hawke’s Bay opened the scoring in the fourth minute and relentlessly added points from there. Winger Shaylee Tipiwai and No 8 Kathleen Brown both scored a first-half brace, lock Liana Mikaele-Tu’u adding their fifth as they rolled to a 27-0 lead after half an hour.

It took a long time for the home side to find some rhythm and string a few phases together. After the inspirational Jess Foster-Lawrence and halfback Pippa Andrews went close to putting the Mako on the board, fullback Sydnee Wilkins got the job done, taking advantage of a superb long pass from first five Hayley Hutana.

The second spell began evenly, the Mako threatening to make it a more even battle but eventually the hard-charging Tui re-asserted control.

Led by Brown, canny halfback Emma Jensen and playmaker Sylvia Bockman they racked up four more tries, including one in the final minute, as play see-sawed back and forth.

The Mako effort was laudable, although they were outclassed. Livewire loosie Leah Miles was strong over the ball, Tamara Silcock turned in her usual strong effort while halfbacks Andrews and Jamie Paenga both threw out a stream of lengthy passes. Demi Salton and Wai Greig in midfield ran hard while Wilkins was impressive at the back.  Hayley Hutana ran the cutter well from first five and used her educated left foot to good effect.

Next up for Tasman is Northland in Whangarei, kick-off 2pm, Saturday.

Scorers: Hawke’s Bay 55 (Shaylee Tipiwai 2, Kathleen Brown 2, Liana Mikaele-Tu’u, Lukila Faavae, Holly MacDonald, Cortez Te Pou, Nicolette Adamson tries, Sylvia Bockman con, Krysten Cotterell 4 con) Tasman Mako 5 (Sydnee Wilkins). HT: 27-5.

Sione Havili, Leicester Fainga'anuku and Levi Aumua enjoy their night out against Auckland. Photo: Shuttersport.

Tasman Mako bound for Blenheim

Fins up Marlborough, the Mako are heading back to Blenheim.

In Nelson on Friday they overcame Auckland 40-0, booking a home semifinal which will be played in Blenheim, probably on October 19.

Both Wellington and Manawatu came to Lansdowne Park earlier in the season, attracting decent crowds, but the Mitre 10 Cup semifinal is likely to far exceed those numbers with excitement growing as the Mako cut an unbeaten swathe through the premiership ranks.

After a couple of patchy efforts, revitalised defence, coupled with some innovative attack, has put a decent breeze back in Tasman’s sails.

On Friday they made the Auckland As look positively B grade, putting 40 unanswered points on the defending champions.

After struggling over the past fortnight to recapture the attacking rhythm and defensive energy they brought to their first five games it was refreshing to see a resurgence in both areas, but particularly without the ball in hand.

The in-your-face, energised defensive attitude that set the likes of Canterbury, Wellington, Taranaki and Counties Manukau on their heels was back last night … with a vengeance.

Although the Mako made a flying start, 14 points up after nine minutes, it was the following 18 minutes that set the template for the match. For all that time Auckland hammered at the Tasman line, attacking close to the breakdown and out wide, but the Mako resisted. A reduction to 14 men following persistent infringements merely prompted a further defensive boost.

Mako assistant coach, and the man charged with planning their defence, Shane Christie, said his side were well aware they would need to lift their game against a dangerous Auckland outfit.

“We put a big emphasis on getting some areas back that we may have lost the last couple of weeks … when we get pushed we can really turn it up, like we did tonight,” he said.

“I’m looking forward to next week already and how much more we can improve from this performance. That’s the aim, bigger and better performances every week.”

Although the Mako are assured of a home semifinal to be played in Blenheim, likely on Saturday October 19, Christie suggests it will be business as usual prior to that.

“[The home semi] is a massive advantage but it is not at the front of our minds just now … we have two weeks of round robin games left to try and improve our game before then.”

It also appears likely the rotational policy that the Mako selection team have used to this stage will continue, with all the squad vying for a place in the starting XV.

Last night the arrival of the bench players, slightly earlier in the piece due to the heavy defensive load carried by the starting XV in the first half, coincided with another elevation in intensity.

“Our Sparkies [reserves] are exceptional players … I don’t know what our best team is, but I do know that whatever squad of 23 that we put out will be ready to perform.”

Allied to the side’s defensive heroics was some innovation on attack, highlighted by Mitch Hunt’s dummied touch kick which led directly to the Mako’s fifth try and a cleverly-orchestrated back move that allowed Leicester Fainga’anuku, who along with Sione Havili were my players of the match, to score their third.

If the challenge of taking on the defending champs wasn’t motivation enough for the Mako, they had the added incentive of giving skipper David Havili a night to remember as he ran out for the 50th time.

Christie was chuffed that they were able to produce the goods on cue.

“The boys will be stoked that they could do that for him … it was a good performance and he deserves it as the skipper and a local lad. The team were really motivated during the week, we knew it was his 50th and you could see with how they played how much respect they have for him.”

The man himself couldn’t wipe the smile off his face after the game and admitted he was a little emotional in the lead-up.

“It has taken a long time to get there so I’m really stoked to be able to bring [the 50th game] up in my home province,” said Havili.

Although the Mako weren’t able to notch 50 points to mark the occasion, they came close, their leader saying they were due for a big one.

“We have lacked some urgency over the last couple of weeks … we talked about making a fast start, and we did that. There were a couple of discipline areas we need to clean up but all-in-all it was a pretty good night,” he added.

Next on the Mako menu is Northland, who come to Nelson on Sunday, with a 2.05pm kickoff.

Ella Donald has been playing touch since she was a Year Five pupil at Havelock School. Photo: Peter Jones.

Ella steps into premier touch ranks

Ella Donald makes no secret of the fact that she has her sights set on a coveted Touch Blacks singlet and, given her rapid progress in the sport, it may not be too long until she is wearing one.

The 18-year-old Marlborough Girls’ College student, who trialled for the New Zealand under-20 mixed team at the weekend, has been chosen by Touch NZ to take part in a newly-established nationwide premier competition, which kicks off in mid-October.

In the Premier Touch League Ella will represent the Te Waipounamu (South Island) open women’s team against three other sides chosen from throughout the North Island.

She will be given an opportunity to rub shoulders with many of the country’s top touch exponents during the four tournaments, in Christchurch and Auckland, that will constitute the new competition.

“I’m really excited to be involved in something new and fresh like this,” said Ella.

“There are a lot of Touch Blacks announced in [the new league] so it will be a great chance for me to learn and improve my game.”

She admits to being slightly nervous about the premier league step-up but has met her new team-mates at a couple of recent training camps and expects the team to come together quickly.

With increased scrutiny on the impact of head injuries in rugby, touch is becoming a viable option for those wanting lesser contact.

“[Touch] is still physical, it’s just not rugby-physical,” she said. “When you are in the ruck you still have to be physical … when you are playing mixed especially, the boys give you a good old push.”

Being diminutive in stature, Ella has had to find ways of combatting the bigger opponents. “It’s all about body position, and the ability to change the way they are dumping the ball, which slows the play down. When you are not so big there are other techniques you can use,” she explained.

In top level touch the six players are generally separated into middles, links and wingers. In a mixed team, girls are usually found on the wings with one female link player, a role Ella traditionally fills and prefers.

She credits Todd Nicholas, a New Zealand masters rep from Marlborough, with helping her hone her touch skills.

“He has helped a lot with my training and fitness, he’s got great knowledge.”

Although Ella confesses that touch is her favourite sporting past time she is no slouch at several other codes, being part of the MGC senior A netball team and the local champion women’s basketball side, while also excelling at athletics.

She had played touch since her Year 5 days at Havelock School, rising up the ranks to represent both Marlborough and Tasman through the various age group levels, then gaining her first national honours as part of the NZ under-16 mixed development side which played in Australia during 2017.

Now she is chasing a place in the under-20 mixed side that will tour Australia in mid-January, having attended a couple of Auckland training camps alongside MBC student Keelan Murrell.

“I’d like to be a Touch Black one day, so hopefully if I make the 20s team I can carry myself up to the top level.”

Although touch can appear as a relatively simple game to the uninitiated, Ella says there is much more to it. She relishes the speed of play, the constant movement and structure on both attack and defence, plus the tactical side and the fact all the players on the field are regularly involved.

“To be a good touch player you need a good heart,” she explained.

“Apart from being physically fit and strong you need good communication skills and must be a good team player. You can’t be an individual in touch, otherwise they are just going to shut you down on defence.

“You’ve also got to be quick on your feet, agile and fast off the mark … be able to handle the ball well and pass well off both hands. Good tactical awareness and the ability to read the game is important, plus the mental toughness and determination to keep going for that touch and to turn the ball over.”

While she is describing the general attributes required to be a good touch player, Ella could well be outlining her own skill set, a combination that pushed her into the top echelon of the sport in New Zealand.

Tasman B loose forward Taine Cragg-Love attempts to shrug off the tackle of Wellington B fullback Connor Garden-Bachop during the match at Lansdowne Park on Saturday. Photo: Peter Jones.

Tries galore as B teams fight out draw

The Mako B team and their Wellington counterparts made the most of balmy spring conditions at Lansdowne Park on Saturday to turn on a 14-try bonanza.

In the end the sides had to settle for a share of the spoils after a highly-entertaining 47-47 draw.

The visitors had the upper hand, on the scoreboard at least, for most of the contest. They led 33-19 at halftime and held a 47-40 advantage with full time up on the clock. However Tasman had the final say when winger Timoci Tavatavanawai dived over for his third try and replacement first five Campbell Parata nailed a tricky conversion to force the stalemate.

Both sides possessed players with Mitre 10 Cup experience and brought intensity, pace and power to the contest.

The set pieces were relatively even, while the battle at the breakdown was also well-balanced, offering both sides plenty of quick ball and scoring opportunities.

The Mako front row of Ryan Coxon, Pino Maupese and Sam Matenga were strong, along with powerhouse lock Isaiah Miller and the hard-working Hopoate Taufa at lock.

Skipper Taina Fox-Matamua, alongside flankers Taine Cragg-Love and Tim Sail brought energy and powerful carries to the mix

Welsh halfback Declan Smith scored twice and cleared well, while centre Mike Vaeno made sure he made an impact on proceedings.

Electric winger Tavatavanawai, who bagged a hat-trick, continually demonstrated his wonderful ability to break clear of tackles and extricate himself from the midst of tight defence.

Parata, halfback Nemia Ranuku and Rahiri Witehira added good value off the bench.

Wellington’s backline was marshalled superbly by Laursen, a former Harlequins player who picked up 22 points on a ground he is well familiar with.

Outside him Thomas Umaga-Jensen and fullback Connor Garden-Bachop underlined their vast potential, while wingers Nash Fiso and Losi Filipo were fast and elusive.

Prop Morgan Poi, lock Josh Toomaga No 8 Luke Tau’alupe plus flankers Jordan Gillies and Parekura Lalaga were the pick of the visiting crew.

The Mako B side have just concluded their South Island season.

They played three times, losing to Southland 38-33 in their first encounter, beating Canterbury 22-20 then Otago 63-17 but their loss to the Stags meant they finished second overall in the group. They finish their season with a return match against Canterbury in Kaikoura next weekend.

Tasman Mako B 47 (Taina Fox-Matamua, Isaiah Miller, Declan Smith 2, Timoci Tavatavanawai 3 tries, Sam Briggs 4 con, Campbell Parata 2 con) Wellington B 47 (Brandyn Laursen 2, Josh Houston-Tupou, Morgan Poi, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Nash Fiso, Connor Garden-Bachop tries, Laursen 6 con). HT: 33-19 Wellington.