Tasman restore credibility with attacking approach
When the disappointment of defeat in Dunedin fades, the Tasman Makos and their management can reflect on a job well done.
Credibility has been restored. Their rise from NPC cellar dwellers in 2011 to legitimate promotion contenders 12 months later represents a mountain of hard work and careful planning, achieved within the constraints of one of the tightest provincial budgets.
Results have generally been pleasing. Wins over two premiership sides and narrow losses to two others, including a brave Ranfurly Shield tilt, suggest the Makos can live with any opposition. But it has been the way they have played the game that has caught the eye.
Tasman's high octane attacking mindset, coupled with a solid defensive system, has seen them become one of the entertainers of the competition. Television commentators, and those outside the region, have enjoyed the refreshing approach which has produced some of the most spectacular tries of the competition.
What initially appeared a cobbled-together bunch of rookies, imports and grizzled veterans quickly gelled into a happy, cohesive and dangerous combination.
Some players stood out.
Former All Black Campbell Johnstone, probably considered by many past his use-by date, anchored a formidable scrum, helping young guns Tim Perry and Sam Prattley get noticed at higher levels.
Aussie winger Peter Betham, one of the bargain buys of the competition, brought his sinewy attacking skills to the mix, inspiring regulars such as Robbie Malneek to produce their best.
Loose forwards Shane Christie and Canterbury import Jordan Taufua produced consistently outstanding performances, lifting their team-mates and hopefully clinching Crusaders jerseys.
Long-serving Makos Andrew Goodman, Malneek, Quentin MacDonald and Joe Wheeler provided the heart and soul of the team. Their pride in the jersey of the country's newest province is palpable and infectious. It seems incredible that MacDonald isn't a first choice for any one of the Super franchises given his high work rate and skills.
A couple of areas need attention, including the key position of halfback.
Neither Samoan international Jeremy Su'a nor the usually reliable Steve Alfeld did it for me.
Su'a appeared muddled and was often slow to the breakdown while Alfeld's confidence looked low, which meant that we were often shaded in this vital spot.
Another problem was an inability to close out close games. We managed to sew up a couple, but the Taranaki, Northland, Waikato and Otago [semifinal] matches could have all been won in the late stages and would have made a huge difference to the season's outcome.
If they're looking for a more ruthless approach, check out Canterbury.
Their hard-ball attitude over the Taufua affair underlined their philosophy - it may not be morally right but, if it's within the laws and will help Canterbury rugby in any way, then they will do it.
Hoani Macdonald's frightening on-field collapse in Pukekohe threw a huge shadow over the ITM Cup semifinals.
The popular rugby journeyman, although based in Southland, is a member of Marlborough's wide-ranging Macdonald clan and has many relatives in this part of the world. Although he has played most of his rep rugby down south, many Marlburians have followed his career with interest. Hopefully his recovery is rapid and successful. Our thoughts are with his family and friends.
The Marlborough Express