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Round-robin reversals built Tasman resolve [Peter Jones]

Round-robin reversals built Tasman resolve

by Peter Jones [Marlborough Weekly / Marlborough App]

If last year’s Mitre 10 premiership clean sweep represented a “coming-of-age” for top of the south rugby, Saturday’s effort at Eden Park underlined Tasman’s arrival as a New Zealand provincial rugby powerhouse. 

Going back-to-back with a settled squad is one thing, having to almost totally re-shape your forward pack, then deal with a string of injuries to key players, including another early in the final, is quite another. 

The 2020 Mako squad epitomise the word ‘resilience’. The seeds of their 13-12 victory over Auckland were sewn during a testing series of round robin matches. Heavy losses to Auckland, North Harbour and Canterbury sent them back to the drawing board.??? 

Tasman’s ability to learn from their poor performances, remedy the problems and improve at the business end of the season was integral to their effort at Eden Park. 

For that, their team leaders, coaches and management must take a huge amount of credit. 

Co-head coach Andrew Goodman put their win down to “a lot of hard work and a lot of belief”. 

“We have flown under the radar a bit this season. Not many people were expecting that result but we had belief … we just chipped away in the background and knew we had a performance in us that could win us back-to-back titles. 

“That defensive block towards the end when Auckland were hard on attack just sums up what the jersey means to the boys, a lot of heart went into that block. 

“I’m just really stoked for everyone that has been involved this season. The whole time and our leadership group has been outstanding. 

“There are also a lot of guys that aren’t here to celebrate tonight with us but we will be having a good connection with them over the next few days because there have been some massive contributions off the field.” 

Losing a key player such as playmaker Mitch Hunt early in the decider with concussion may have rattled lesser teams, but the Mako covered his absence with aplomb. 

“Tim [O’Malley] and Dave [Havili] stepped up and took on some extra work, including the goalkicking,” said Goodman. 

“I’m so proud of Tim, he has only started in the last three weeks but he is a guy that epitomises our squad … even when he hasn’t been getting regular starts he works away and is a great team man, puts the team first. 

“Quentin [MacDonald] is another … he’s just put his hand up over the last two weeks and led the way. It’s great that we can call on a guy of that experience.” 

While only nine players remained from the team that contested last year’s final, Goodman said it was the calibre of those players that proved so vital. 

“At the core of that group is Dave Havili, Mitch Hunt, Quin Strange, Alex Nankivell, Andrew Makalio and Fin Christie … our leadership group have been outstanding for us every week. They have driven the standards … I am just so proud of not only them but the whole squad."?? 

When asked to compare last year’s triumph with Saturday’s effort, Goodman noted, “It was pure happiness to win it the first time, that will hold a very special place in my heart, but this is really satisfying. 

“It has been a lot of hard work and we have learned some hard lessons on the way … the main thing is that the boys have kept believing - as a coaching group, as a management group and as a playing group. 

“We have learned from those occasions when we didn’t perform to our best and tonight we put in a performance that I thought was worthy of a win. We probably created a few more scoring opportunities [than Auckland].” 

Goodman also took time to praise his fellow coaches. 

“Shane Christie has been a magician with our defence over the last few years, he’s done an amazing job. And the work Clarke Dermody, in his last year with us, has done with our young forward pack has had a lot to do with the result today.”?? 

?Tasman’s victory with a vastly different squad this year shows there is depth in the region, while Goodman said that the players who have come from elsewhere to join the union have relished the experience. 

“You talk to a guy like Mark Telea … now he’s a Mako man for life, he understands what it is to be a Mako man. He sees what we do every day … the players that have come to the Mako, whether it be for a year or more, they just love the place, Nelson and Blenheim, they love the team and how we operate and the footy we play. 

“That’s a credit to the boys that have grown up in the region. It shows the passion they have for the team and it’s something special,” Goodman added. 

Second win even more sweet for TRU Chairman

By Peter Jones 

There is a saying in sport that goes, “if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best”. 

Well, in provincial rugby terms it doesn’t come much tougher than taking on Auckland at Fortress Eden Park.  

The home side, national provincial champion on 17 occasions, were top qualifiers for the final and boasted a 31-10 victory over the Mako the last time the sides met. 

In front of a home crowd, who were handed free admission, Saturday’s Mitre 10 Cup premiership decider was meant to be a step to far for the gritty southerners, champions in 2019 with a vastly-different squad. 

But someone forgot to tell David Havili’s 2020 crew, who came away with a nail-biting 13-12 victory.  

As a delighted Tasman Rugby Union chairman Wayne Young pointed out, “we weren’t meant to do that – it wasn’t in the script”.  

“I think a lot of impartial rugby people were of the opinion that the home ground advantage would do it for Auckland, even if it was tight.” 

Young admitted to being “extremely stressed out” during the final stages of the match, especially when he was called out by one of the Eden Park staff to leave his seat during the hectic final minutes to take the lift down to ground level in preparation for the trophy presentations. 

“We got in the lift with four minutes to go and I said that we would know who has won by the cheering of the crowd, a big roar will mean Auckland have got it. 

“When I got on the field and we had won it was a totally different feeling to last year. 

“Last year was so good but I would almost personally put this ahead of it … to me this one is more special. 

“The coaching staff and management have created that old fashioned togetherness and passion that got them over the line … we have done it this season without rock stars, just grit and determination.”