At halftime in Sunday’s Tasman v Taranaki match-up at the Bullring in New Plymouth one of the ‘Naki coaching staff let slip that the home side had talked before the game of “being the bully”.
And it was clear from the outset that the Amber and Blacks, renowned for their uncompromising forward play, were intent on “bullying” their high-flying opponents from the top of the south.
To some extent it worked, Taranaki bringing early intensity at the breakdown and ferocity in defence. However, that sort of effort takes its toll and, if their rivals are patient, as Tasman generally were, they can absorb the pressure and find other ways to unlock the defence.
Mitchell Hunt’s pinpoint cross kicks created two superbly-executed Mako tries, the other pair of touchdowns coming through relentless close-quarter play, achieved when the opposition were fatigued from tackling themselves into the ground.
When the final whistle sounded there was only one “bully” left standing tall at Yarrow Stadium.
There is plenty to like about this Mako side, who now lead the premiership by five points. One is their ability to adapt the way they attack to what their opposition bring, another is their willingness to use the ball from all areas of the ground, and at a pace that very few teams can live with.
With this approach, mistakes are bound to occur. After all bodies are moving onto the ball at maximum speed and close to the tackle line.
That’s where the other integral part of the Mako game comes in. Their defence is well-organised, desperate and hard-hitting. And that occurs right across the park, making them a tough proposition to tip over, as a gallant but ultimately out-gunned Taranaki side found out.
Tasman co-head coach Andrew Goodman said his side knew the home side were going to bring a physical approach to the table.
“We could probably have adjusted a little earlier with our body height … but when we got that right we got some good go-forward ball and were able to exploit a bit of space.
“They were definitely strong around the breakdown area, threw some numbers in and slowed out ball down.”
Goodman felt the physicality of the match, and the way they had dealt with it would benefit the Mako going into their next match, against Counties Manukau, another team renowned for their robust approach, on Friday.
“[This game’s] given us some areas we need to tidy up before then so we can get the speed of ball that we like to play with.”
With a short turnaround before the Mako’s next game, recovery is paramount and injuries, especially in key positions, can slow momentum. Goodman said immediately after the match he hadn’t ascertained the extent of the knock to prop Tyrel Lomax that saw him leave the field early in the first half.
“Fingers crossed he’s not too bad, but it was great to see Crocky [Wyatt Crockett] get through 40 on his return to play and it seems everyone else got through pretty well although there will be some sore bodies no doubt.”
A major plus for the Mako on Sunday came at lineout time where they stole a high percentage of their rival’s throws, curtailing their attacking ambitions.
“The boys have done a lot of hard work on our lineout defence,” said Goodman, “it’s always rewarding when something like that pays off.”
Another feature of Tasman’s efforts so far has been the positive way they have approached all aspects of the game, taking the opportunity to express themselves in what Goodman describes as “the Mako way”.
After picking up maximum points from probably their toughest examination of the current campaign, sorry about that Canterbury, it seems that is definitely the right way to go.