Makos fail to fire in North Harbour
Tasman Makos coach Kieran Keane knew North Harbour had the potential to trip his side up and that's exactly what happened at Trafalgar Park in Nelson on Saturday night.
The 43-10 final scoreline to the visitors stunned most observers. It hugely disappointed the Makos' coaching staff, not to mention the fans as the result robbed them of the chance to see their team at home on Saturday in the semifinal against Otago.
Worse still, there is a significant injury concern around several key players. Star flanker Shane Christie did not take his place on the subs bench due to rib and back injuries. Prop Campbell Johnstone and lock Filipo Levi were unavailable due to calf muscle and foot injuries respectively, while during Saturday's match, wing Robbie Malneek went down with what looked a serious leg injury. Lock Joe Wheeler left the field with concussion and No 8 Jordan Taufua was walking gingerly after the match.
Keane is confident Levi and Christie will make the cut for next week, but is less optimistic about former All Black Johnstone and Malneek and wasn't sure yesterday about Wheeler's condition.
While most were stunned, not only by the result but the margin of the defeat, Keane wasn't because of the disappointing way his team played and he acknowledged the players may have had their minds on the semifinal.
"It was a bit disappointing. We didn't turn up mentally. There was little or no sign of that prior to the game. Things had gone smoothly.
"We'll probably dump [the performance]. Get it out of our psyche somehow and look forward to the single challenge [v Otago].
"We've got a whole lot of things to worry about. The opposition [Otago] have taken a bit of a bashing too.
"They are in the same boat as us. It's going to be a test for both to get up for the most important game of the season."
There was little indication during the opening 17 minutes of Saturday's clash that the Makos were going to be hammered. They dominated possession and territory, created opportunities but tellingly, North Harbour's defence was outstanding and the Makos error rate counted against them.
Once North Harbour had soaked up the pressure, they grew in confidence, attacked the breakdown and had a great lineout platform to work from courtesy of an outstanding performance by their lock, Chris Smith.
Fullback Codey Rei began the rout with a fine try on the back of a break by Francis Saili in the 25th minute and before halftime, flanker Irwin Finau was over on the back of a Cory Aporo bust.
Down 3-20 at halftime, the Makos needed to score first in the second spell but the visitors stuck another dagger into their opposition with a Rei penalty.
The Makos finally had something to show for their attacking endeavour in the 53rd minute when first five Hayden Cripps glided over after a quick throw-in to himself by replacement wing Peter Betham.
However, North Harbour finished with a flourish as both teams cleaned out their benches. Two tries in quick succession by replacement halfback Bryn Hall and wing David Raikuna put the issue beyond doubt then No 8 Vili Fihaki iced the cake with a simple try in the 70th minute.
North Harbour thoroughly deserved their win. They looked nothing like a team on the bottom of the points table searching for their first win. They brought the urgency and passion missing from the Makos' performance.
However, it was their lineout dominance and superb defence which ultimately set the platform for this win.
For the Makos, hooker Quentin MacDonald, flanker Gary Redmond and outstanding No 8 Taufua shone.
MacDonald summed up a night of missed opportunities for his team.
"They're a class team one to 22 so we knew if we didn't front . . . we were in for a big night and we got a bit of a hiding.
Looking forward to next week, he was confident the Makos could put this horror show behind them.
"Yeah, easy. It's the start of a new competition I reckon. We've just got to put all this behind us and go down there and try and do the job.
"They had a real good [defensive] line and we knew what we had to do . . . we just didn't do it."
Elated North Harbour assistant coach, former All Black Jeff Wilson said, "[Tasman] have played well all season. Today our guys showed up, last game of the year, to try and prove a point, I think more to themselves than anything.
"Hopefully [Tasman] aren't not too banged up going into a big game like Otago, but that's the nature of the game unfortunately. I think tonight, our guys just showed what they're capable of."
It's a huge challenge for the players to recover mentally and physically over the next seven days, but it's a one-off winner takes all scenario and they won't mind heading south as underdogs.
North Harbour 42 (Codey Rei, Irwin Finau, David Raikuna, Vili Fihaki, Bryn Hall tries, Rei 4 con, 3 pen) Tasman Makos 10 (Hayden Cripps try, Tom Marshall con, pen) Halftime: North Harbour 20-3
The Marlborough Express