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Mako seal home semi-final with win over Hawkes Bay

It wasn't pretty, but the Tasman Mako sealed their spot in the Mitre 10 Cup semi finals with a gritty 29-0 bonus point win over Hawke's Bay in atrocious conditions at Trafalgar Park tonight.

BY PETER JONES [Marlborough App] AND JONTY DINE [Nelson App]

Tasman are assured of hosting a semifinal in Nelson next week after taking maximum points and regaining top spot in the premiership. 

A try either side of half time helped the Mako hold off a brave first half challenge, before adding two late touchdowns to grab a welcome bonus point. Coupled with this was the host's dogged defensive effort, which kept the Magpies scoreless.

Both sides struggled to control possession but it was the visitors who got the better of the opening exchanges.

Starved of territory early on, the Mako finally opened the scoring through a Mitch Hunt penalty after 27 minutes of sloppy footy.

As the siren sounded on a dreary half, in-form lock Pari Pari Parkinson muscled his way over the chalk for the game’s opening try.

Despite dominating field position during the first 40, Hawke's Bay were unable to get on the board, the Mako taking a 10-0 lead into the break.

The Mako then struck immediately after oranges, Tim O'Malley running a superb line off Hunt to stretch the advantage to 15.

Hunt then put the result to bed with 10 to play, the mercurial fly half crawling his way through the defence to slide in under the sticks.

Replacement Jack Grooby claimed the bonus point for Tasman, the little half back sneaking over after 25 phases of relentless attack.

Tasman’s opponents next week will either be Canterbury, if Auckland are able to move ahead of Tasman in the overall standings, or the fourth-placed qualifier if Tasman remain on top.

Mako coach Leon MacDonald said he was "really happy” with the result, especially given a few mitigating factors. "We didn’t get the rub of the green with the elements … we played into torrential rain and wind in the first half, then it died in the second and we didn’t get the benefit then either.

"However we ground them down and although we made a few mistakes as would be expected in those conditions we were able to strike just before halftime which was critical.

"There was some pretty intense attack from Hawke’s Bay too, but we managed to hold on there and finish the job with some momentum at the end, so it was a very pleasing effort.”

Late slumps have marked a few of the Mako’s recent encounters so it was particularly pleasing to see the bench come on this week and provide a noticeable lift.

"Jack Grooby was outstanding tonight,” said MacDonald. "We have got an outstanding half in Fin Christie but to bring someone like Jack on who can speed the game up the way he does is exactly what we want from our nine. 

"Ray Niuia was also outstanding off the bench … and our reserve props got a scrum penalty, so that impact was something we have been working hard to get.”

The Mako defence was outstanding, as the scoreline suggested, with the inside backs leading the way. Christie, Hunt and O’Malley made a series of crucial tackles in the first spell as the Magpies threatened to get over the line.

MacDonald also made mention of a rookie, a speedster and a veteran. "Mike Curry was fantastic, worked all day and grew in confidence. I’m thrilled for him and it gives us some more depth in a position we are light in. 

"Tomas [Aoake] is also starting to find his feet – he brings something different on attack and is very courageous.”

Alex Ainley, in his first outing for the season, got through 80 minutes, no surprise to MacDonald who joked that the team hadn’t got any minutes out of the seasoned campaigner this year so were making the most of it.

"He gets grumpy when he gets substituted and just loves this sort of wet weather arm wrestle. It was great to see him back on the field.”

Scorers:

Tasman Mako 29 (Pari Pari Parkinson, Tim O'Malley, Mitch Hunt, Jack Grooby tries, Hunt 3 cons, 1 pen) Hawke’s Bay Magpies 0. HT: 10-0.

Standings (all teams except Tasman have a game to play): Tasman 43, Auckland 41, Canterbury 37, Wellington 29, North Harbour 29, Counties Manukau 16, Taranaki 13.