Sun, Oct 3, 2021 5:54 PM

Shield challenge next stop for Mako

Leicester Fainga’anuku bagged a double against Southland in Blenheim this afternoon. Photo: Evan Barnes/Shuttersport.

Peter Jones

The Mako could probably have been excused for taking their eye off the ball when Southland came to town today.

After all, Tasman are just six days away from a long-awaited Ranfurly Shield challenge, just the third in the fledgling union’s history.

Instead, the Mako, no doubt stung by last week’s reversal against Waikato, turned in a compelling 80 minutes of rugby, against a Stags side who have shown they can live with the NPC premiership’s best this season.

Tasman ticked all the boxes. Their defence was suffocating, applying relentless pressure at both breakdown and in general play. Their set pieces were generally sound and created momentum, while they attacked with purpose and flair, finishing scoring opportunities clinically.

Head coach Andrew Goodman would not be drawn on speculating how today's effort featured in terms of preparation for the forthcoming Shield challenge, suggesting it would be a vastly different scenario at McLean Park.

“I think we all know it is going to be a totally different ball game,” he said with a wry smile.

He is right of course, but he and his fellow coaches must have been pleased with what he saw at Lansdowne Park as the Southland Stags were dismantled 51-14.

The result was set up in the first quarter, after which Tasman led 26-0. They may have had a steady wind at their backs and a pristine Lansdowne Park turf under their feet, but it was accuracy, ferocity and patience that did the business.

Superbly marshalled by playmaker Mitch Hunt, who utilised his blockbusting midfield duo of Levi Aumua and Leicester Fainga’anuku to fine effect, the Mako rediscovered the flair that was absent last weekend.

Wingers Timoci Tavatavanawai and Macca Springer played their parts, the former scoring the first two tries and making yards whenever he touched the ball. Springer’s successful leap to claim a Hunt high kick, then run away and score was one of the local highlights.

Up front, prop Sam Matenga carried hard and often while lock Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta had one of his best outings in the Mako shirt. He was physical in all the right places, showed skills when required and must be pushing hard for a starting role against the Magpies.

The loose forward trio of Hugh Renton, Jacob Norris and Anton Segner complemented each other superbly on both attack and defence, the former underlining his value to this team as both a leader and utterly dependable team-mate.

Another plus for the Mako camp was the ongoing impact of their bench. Despite a string of injuries, some season-ending, their ‘Sparkies’ as they are known in the top of the south, maintained the winning momentum and, at times, exceeded it.

Andrew suggested he was “really stoked with the intent at the start”.

“Little things like winning the hard balls on the floor, those 50/50 ones that really turn the momentum and gave us opportunities in their 22 early. That showed our mindset was right today.

“We also felt the forwards did an amazing job in the first half with strong carries and also our defence which gave the back the opportunity to score points.”

He mentioned the efforts of Quinten Strange and Cirikidaveta, who was “just outstanding in the first 80-minute effort back for him after injury – he’s put his hand right up”.

He also pointed to the work of fullback Willie Havili who stepped into the first five’s role when Hunt was substituted and “controlled the last 20 minutes really well”.

Now it is on to McLean Park and a chance to make history. Andrew says he and the players can’t wait.

“It is really exciting to now be able to put all our focus and energy into [the challenge]. [Hawke's Bay] are a top team and we will have to play our best game of the season, we know that, but we are certainly looking forward to it.”