Fri, Nov 12, 2021 8:38 AM

Mako set for semi showdown

The Mako travel north to Napier for their crucial semi-final matchup against Hawke's Bay tomorrow. Photo: Shuttersport

Jonty Dine

Two changes up front and a backline reshuffle are features of the Tasman Mako team named to take on Hawke’s Bay in the Bunnings NPC premiership semi-final at Napier’s McLean Park on Saturday afternoon.

There are two changes in the pack from last week.

Hooker Andrew Makalio returns in place of Quentin MacDonald, while co-captain Quinten Strange comes back into the side for the injured Pari Pari Parkinson.

Behind the scrum, Leicester Fainga’anuku moves to centre, with Levi Aumua relegated to the bench.

Youngster Macca Springer takes Fainga’anuku’s place on the left wing with Timoci Tavatavanawai, who entered the fray early last week in place of the injured Regan Ware, returning to the right wing.

A new face on the bench is halfback Noah Hotham, who replaces Jack Grooby.

The Mako turned on a typically gritty play-off performance to get past a powerful Wellington line-up at Lansdowne Park on Saturday, now they face the hottest side in the competition.

Hawke’s Bay are top qualifiers for the play-offs, having lost just once this season and strung together a stellar run of Ranfurly Shield defenses.

The previous occasion the Mako and the Magpies met, also in Napier, the Bay came away with a conclusive 34-22 victory.

On that occasion the home side got away to a hefty early lead and, although Tasman fought back, they were playing catch-up rugby for the majority of the match.

If they are to have a chance of reaching a third successive final, Tasman will need to stay in the game for the full 80 minutes, then rely on their big match experience to see them through.

No doubt the Magpies will be hot favourites going into this one, and rightly so, given their 2021 record, but Tasman have proven in recent times that they have the ability to find another gear for play-off matches.

Both their structured and scrambling defence was superb last week and a repeat effort in that department will go a long way to frustrating a Hawke’s Bay who have so often had things go their way in previous games.

Discipline will also be key, if the Mako are to avoid giving away back-to-back penalties and conceding five metre lineouts, a situation the Magpies dine out on.

As Tasman coach Andrew Goodman said immediately after last week’s win, “once you get into the semis it is anybody’s game”.

“It’s knockout rugby and we are all excited about it … we will certainly have gained some confidence from what we have done over the last couple of years but we are facing some quality opposition so we are going to have to play our best game of the season.”

The Mako team to play Hawke’s Bay at McLean Park in Napier on Saturday, kick-off 4.35pm, is: 1 Isi Tu’ungafasi, 2 Andrew Makalio, 3 Sam Matenga, 4 Antonio Shalfoon, 5 Quinten Strange (co-captain), 6 Jacob Norris, 7 Anton Segner, 8 Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta; 9 Louie Chapman, 10 Mitch Hunt (co-captain), 11 Macca Springer, 12 Alex Nankivell, 13 Leicester Fainga’anuku, 14 Timoci Tavatavanawai, 15 Andrew Knewstubb.

Sparkies (bench): Quentin MacDonald, Luca Inch, Isaac Salmon, Max Hicks, Hugh Renton, Noah Hotham, Tim O’Malley, Levi Aumua.