Tasman’s high-fliers head for Eden Park
by Peter Jones [Marlborough Weekly / Marlborough App]
Tasman will go into next weekend’s Mitre 10 Cup premiership final as firm underdogs, but no-one in their right mind will be writing off this resilient crew from the top of the south.
They may have been well beaten by Auckland the last time they met, however, as they underlined on Saturday with a gritty 19-10 semifinal victory over an in-form Bay of Plenty side, when the chips are down the Mako are at their most dangerous.
Against the Steamers they out-thought and out-manipulated their rivals, formulating a game plan that targeted their opponent’s perceived weaknesses and executing it splendidly.
Kicking away hard-won possession is a risky business, especially against a side such as Bay of Plenty stacked with wonderful counter-attackers at the back. Therefore kicks must firstly be contestable and secondly, aggressively contested.
Tasman’s troops did both. Halfback Finlay Christie hoisted a stream of superb hanging, high kicks which aerial specialists such as Leicester Fainga’anuku, Mark Telea, Fetuli Paea and David Havili plucked out of the air, creating potent attacking platforms.
Along with their now trademark uncompromising defence, the Mako effectively shut down a side renowned for their attacking prowess, a feat they will have to replicate at Eden Park on Saturday evening.
There are certainly areas of concern to address before then. Tasman’s ill-discipline allowed their rivals back into the game before halftime, while there were the usual creaks at set piece time. However, these are issues that can be remedied although, given some of the officiating interpretations at the moment, penalty awards have become something of a lottery.
Mako co-head coach Andrew Goodman was thrilled to make another final, and a chance to go back-to-back in the premiership.
“There was some good passages there … Bay of Plenty have finished all their recent games very strongly so, in the second half particularly, we used our contestable kicking game to a real advantage.
“Red [Christie] was just putting them on the money every time and Mark, Leicester and Dave were competing hard in the air, which was awesome.”
Goodman was also happy with his side’s ability to adhere to the game plan but suggested their general discipline would have to improve for the final.
While making the final, despite undergoing so many changes in personnel to the unbeaten 2019 side, is a victory in itself, Goodman stressed that the job was far from done.
“The thing about this team is that they are not going to be happy with [reaching the final]. The boys are in it to win it and we have a chance now … we know Auckland up there are going to be a very tough challenge and they have given us one already this year so there’s plenty of motivation there.”
A feature, especially during the latter stages of the season and as the injury toll rises, is the ability of several of the lesser lights to step up.
“Tim O’Malley has been really solid in the 12 jersey over the last couple of weeks, Quentin MacDonald starting today and handled his key roles really well … it’s great to have his experience out there,” said Goodman.
“One of the things we have built over the last couple of years is we have wanted to trust our depth and be confident that whoever we put out there is going to do a job and do it with pride.”
Captain Havili said that although the Mako had lost plenty of seasoned campaigners from last year’s squad, there was still lots of experience in the squad.
“The group that we have now is exceptional in the way that we use them and we are super excited for next weekend.
“It’s pretty special to make the final, especially coming from this area … I’m really stoked to be able to get another opportunity [to win the premiership] again.
“We are just going to go out there and throw the kitchen sink at it,” Havili added.
The premiership final kicks off on Eden Park at 6.35pm.