Wed, Oct 6, 2021 9:12 AM

Mako head north with an eye on history

Leicester Fainga'anuku looms as a key figure for the mako in its shield clash against the Magpies this wekekedn. Photo: Shuttersport (File)

Peter Jones

The Tasman Mako have climbed two of the highest peaks in New Zealand provincial rugby. Next weekend they will attempt to knock off the third.

In 2013 the Mako, in just their eighth season of existence, won the NPC championship title, beating Hawke’s Bay in Nelson.

Six seasons later they claimed their first premiership crown, beating Wellington at Trafalgar Park, then repeated the dose last year with victory over Auckland at Eden Park.

On Saturday, they will seek to add what some still view as the greatest prize in New Zealand provincial rugby, the Ranfurly Shield, to their ever-expanding trophy cabinet.

Standing in their way will be a red-hot Hawke’s Bay team, the match scheduled for 4.35pm at McLean Park, Napier.

Tasman’s Ranfurly Shield history is remarkably brief. They have challenged for the ‘Log of Wood’ rarely during the past 15 seasons. Through a combination of unlucky draws and untimely results they have had just two attempts to get their hands on the Shield, which was first played for in 1904.

Tasman’s first shot came at an interesting juncture in the fledgling province’s journey. In 2008, they took on Wellington at the Caketin, a day after the NZ Rugby Union handed them a stay of execution, after previously threatening to throw them out of top-level provincial rugby.

The resolute Mako responded in appropriate fashion, played with more cohesion than Wellington for much of the game, won 26-20 by the men from the capital.

The challengers led 6-3 at half-time, with a strong wind at their backs, prompting Lions coach Jamie Joseph to ring the changes in a bid to kick-start Wellington's faltering backline.

A Piri Weepu penalty and a try to Hosea Gear saw the holders move out to a 11-6 lead, but it was short-lived as Tasman halfback Kahn Fotuali'i squirrelled across for a try and captain Andrew Goodman converted to give Tasman a 13-11 lead with little more than 10 minutes to play.

Then came the match’s pivotal moment, Fotuali’i controversially sin-binned and Weepu knocking over the resulting penalty. Wellington captain Jeremy Thrush crashed over to score soon after and, with the conversion, Wellington moved 21-13 ahead.

No 8 Thomas Waldrom put the matter beyond doubt right on 80 minutes with Wellington's third try.

Although Tasman fought to the end, and scored through James Marshall to grab a bonus point, the shield remained in the capital.

After the union’s second challenge, against Taranaki in 2012, the question was asked, “How do you score five tries, 40 points and still lose a Ranfurly Shield challenge”?

In a thrilling, almost surreal clash at Yarrow Stadium in New Plymouth the home side prevailed 49-40 in a 10-try see-sawing epic.

The match was described as “an absolute stunner” featuring some brilliant tries, several constructed from long range.

After 40 minutes, 62 points had been scored, the holders scoring four first half tries, the challengers three.

The scoring deluge continued after the break. Trailing by four over the closing stages, the Mako opted not to kick at goal from penalties as Taranaki looked on the ropes.

However, they twice turned over possession while hot on attack and on another occasion were penalised right under Taranaki's posts when a try loomed.

Beauden Barrett put the issue beyond doubt with two minutes to play, scoring and converting, and the ‘Naki supporters breathed a huge sigh of relief as one of the most bizarre and entertaining matches in Shield history finished in their favour.

Tasman’s current head coach Andrew Goodman played in both challenges.

“We were right in the Wellington challenge then Kahn got a yellow card which was a bit of a rough call with 10-15 minutes to go,” he recalled.

“The Naki game was an amazing occasion and amazing build-up. We had gone into that season knowing we had the first challenge and we had just beaten a strong Canterbury team so we went up there with a lot of confidence.

“We were right in that game too. There were a couple of decisions we still look back on now and say, ‘what if?’, but it was just one of those games that was amazing to be a part of.”

Looking ahead, Andrew says Tasman are fortunate the cards have fallen Tasman’s way this season and they will get a third opportunity for Shield glory.

“The shield is very special … even after so many years. We will look back at the time Marlborough held the Shield and draw some inspiration from those special memories.

“I’m sure having a chance to make history will be in the players’ minds heading up to Napier. The intensity levels will be a big step up from week-to-week games … it’s going to be an exciting week.”

Previous challenges

Tasman v Wellington 2008

Wellington 26 (Gear, Thrush, Waldrom tries, Weepu con, 2 pens, Kirkpatrick pen) Tasman 20 (Fotuali'i, Marshall tries, Marshall 2 con, Nikora 2 pen). HT: 3-6 Tasman.

Tasman v Taranaki 2012

Taranaki 49 (Kurt Baker 2, Blade Thompson, Waisake Naholo, Beauden Barrett tries, Barrett 3 con, 6 pen) Tasman Makos 40 (Quentin MacDonald, James Lowe, Campbell Johnstone, Tim Perry, Robbie Malneek tries, Andrew Goodman 3 con)