The Tasman Mako have made a winning start to their two-match exhibition tour of the United States, overcoming a stubborn Houston SabreCats side 29-19 at Aveva Stadium.
Jet lag appeared to be no issue for the visitors as they made a strong start against the Texas-based Major League Rugby side on Sunday (NZ time) as front rower Sam Matenga scored a try off a sharp blindside run with eight minutes on the clock.
The lead extended to 12-0 after 23 minutes when vice-captain and fullback Jamie Spowart skipped through the SabreCats backline to score the team's second try, which was duly converted by Campbell Morgan-Parata.
However, the home-side finished the first half stronger, with tries to second five-eighth Tiaan Loots and hooker Timothy Cadwallader erasing the Mako's advantage to take a 14-12 lead into the break.
Tasman made an immediate strike in the second half when centre Caleb Coventry seized upon a loose pass from SabreCats' number 10 Sam Windsor to run in untouched for a five-pointer and restore ascendancy for the Mako.
A further penalty to man-of-the-match Sam Briggs pushed the lead out beyond seven points at 22-14, before Uruguayan number 8 Diego Magno closed the gap to just three with a well-taken try at the 64 minute-mark.
However, Briggs provided a moment of individual brilliance just three minutes later to out-step three SabreCat defenders to cross for the match-winner in the 71st minute, which he then converted.
The Mako now head north to Washington State, where they will meet the MLR champion Seattle Seawolves next Monday (NZ time).
At a Glance:
Tasman Mako 29 (Sam Matenga, Jamie Spowart, Caleb Coventry, Sam Briggs tries; Briggs penalty, 2 conversions; Campbell Morgan-Parata conversion) beat Houston SabreCats 19 (Tiaan Loots, Timothy Cadwallader, Diego Magno tries; Sam Windsor 2 conversions). HT 12-14.