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Waikato snap 14-year drought with 39-22 win over Tasman

By Robert van Royen [Stuff]

What a difference a week can make in the national provincial competition.

Waikato buried the anguish of last week’s one-point loss to Canterbury with a drought-breaking 39-22 win against the reigning champion Tasman Mako in Nelson on Friday night.

The Mooloos didn’t just snap a seven-match losing streak against the Mako, they recorded their first away win against Tasman in 14 years.

They did it on the back of a superb defensive effort, in which they tackled like demons and were mighty pests at the breakdown.

To put Waikato’s defence into perspective, they played 20 minutes with 14 men due to yellow cards to Steven Misa and Hamilton Burr, made a whopping 160 tackles to Tasman’s 48 during the first hour, yet had outscored the hosts four tries to one to lead 32-10.

Before a late rally, it was shades of Tasman’s 29-0 defeat to Canterbury in Blenheim last year, and made for a frustrating night at Trafalgar Park for the back-to-back champs, who had won 24 of 27 matches since the start of the 2019 season.

Having started the season with three straight wins, they were simply not up to scratch on a night they got back Crusaders hooker Andrew Makalio from a long-term neck injury, but lost prop Ryan Coxon to a nasty ankle injury.

Three of Waikato’s tries came from Tasman blunders, including midfielder Gideon Wrampling’s 42nd minute strike shortly after the Mako botched an exit.

Tasman finally crossed the chalk through wing Leicester Fainga’anuku in the 51st minute to give the hosts a sniff, only for Waikato halfback Cortez Ratima to respond in quick-time, dashing 22 metres to the line from the back of a scrum.

Shannon Frizell, one of a few Mako players to miss Ratima on his spinning and weaving run, and Makalio scored tries to pull the Mako to within 10 with eight minutes remaining, before Waikato wing Liam Coombes-Fabling scored his second to kill off the comeback and bag the bonus point win, which propelled them to the top of the premiership standings.

Waikato loose forward Liam Messam holds up Tasman player Sam Matenga in Nelson on Friday night.
EVAN BARNES/GETTY IMAGES
Waikato loose forward Liam Messam holds up Tasman player Sam Matenga in Nelson on Friday night.

Tasman were responsible for all the early running, enjoying stacks of possession and territory in the opening half.

The problem was they couldn’t crack the stout Waikato defence, which pulled off a series of impressive goal line stands, including when they rebuffed giant lock Pari Pari Parkinson when he looked sure to plunge over the line.

Even when Waikato No 8 Liam Messam had the ball ripped from his grasp on his own line, Tasman fluffed the opportunity.

If that wasn’t frustrating enough for the home side, the manner in which they coughed up a couple of tries had to be.

Tasman utility Leicester Fainga'anuku was again one of his side's best players, despite losing to Waikato in Nelson on Friday.
EVAN BARNES/GETTY IMAGES
Tasman utility Leicester Fainga'anuku was again one of his side's best players, despite losing to Waikato in Nelson on Friday.

Fullback Matthew Lansdown nabbed the first, pouncing on a kick midfielder Wrampling hacked forward after a loose Tasman pass went to ground.

Their 10-3 lead promptly became 15-3 after 28 minutes, when another sloppy pass was punished by centre Bailyn Sullivan, who dashed inside the Mako 22 and fed wing Coombes-Fabling to finish expertly out wide.

Tasman prop Ryan Coxon is carried from the field after injuring his ankle against Waikato in Nelson on Friday.
EVAN BARNES/GETTY IMAGES
Tasman prop Ryan Coxon is carried from the field after injuring his ankle against Waikato in Nelson on Friday.

Referee Nick Briant needed the TMO to clear the try, which stood after replays confirmed Mako pivot Mitch Hunt’s body stopped Coombes-Fabling’s foot from touching the chalk.

With Misa yellow carded in the 31st minute, the Mako had more opportunities to strike before the half was out, but when all was said and done they had nothing more to show for 74 per cent territory, 63 per cent possession, and six and a half minutes inside Waikato’s 22.

Waikato 39 (Matthew Lansdown, Liam Coombes-Fabling 2, Gideon Wrampling, Cortez Ratima tries; Fletcher Smith 4 con, 2 pen) Tasman 22 (Leicester Fainga’anuku, Shannon Frizell, Andrew Makalio tries; Mitch Hunt pen, 2 con). HT: 15-3

Stuff MVP points: Liam Coombes-Fabling 3, Mitchell Jacobson 2, Leicester Fainga'anuku 1