Makos take time before firing up
The first leg of the treble is in and the Tasman Makos moved up to second place in the ITM Cup rugby Championship ladder after a solid 27-3 win over Manawatu at Palmerston North yesterday.
Now it's Southland on Wednesday night at Lansdowne Park in Blenheim then Northland at the same venue on Sunday afternoon as they try and continue an impressive resurgence this season.
It wasn't anywhere near perfect yesterday in difficult windy conditions and the energy and fizz from the previous week's Ranfurly Shield thriller against Taranaki wasn't up to the same level. However, the Makos always looked the superior team against a Manawatu side which hardly fired a shot in anger.
Wing Peter Betham continued on his impressive showing against Taranaki with a blinder, a man of the match performance. The Waratahs flier went searching for work and provided the attacking spark, along with fullback Robbie Malneek, which ignited the Makos attack.
Power and pace were ingredients in his first-half try scored in just the third minute as he powered away 40 metres on the back of a clean break by Malneek from a slick No 8-halfback initiated move off the back of a scrum.
Playing into a howling wind, the Makos used the right tactics, keeping ball in hand and rumbling it in close.
Betham looked dangerous every time he touched the ball and was used effectively coming into the line at second receiver. Manawatu's forwards were generally on the back foot against a Makos pack which hit the breakdown with more intent and defended vigorously, led by debutante flanker Gary Redmond.
The home side's best chance of scoring came via penalty goal attempts but Craig Clare's radar was off and he missed three in the first half as the Turbos failed to utilise the conditions.
Makos coaches Kieran Keane and his assistant Leon MacDonald were looking for more energy in the second half and by injecting four players off the bench for the second 40, they got what they were seeking.
Filipo Levi came on and continued the excellent grafting role in the tight and in tandem with his fellow lock Riki Hoeata did a good job. Jordan Taufua was all fire and fizz with ball in hand and although once again the scrum was good, lineouts are still an area of work-ons.
Taking an 8-3 lead into the second half playing with the wind, the Makos turned the screws with a beautifully worked try to Malneek as he ran onto a grubber through by first-five Hayden Cripps. Kieron Fonotia turned over Manawatu possession which resulted in a brilliant try to replacement wing James Lowe. Betham made the initial run, halfback Steve Alfeld carried it on and Lowe was in close support to finish.
Taufua nailed the bonus point fourth try near fulltime, although only after an agonising wait for the TMO to make the 50/50 call.
Manawatu sparked on occasions in the second half but only once, when their mercurial inside back Junior Tomasi Cama broke through did they look like scoring a try, the Makos keen defence generally shutting down their space. Alfeld and Cripps combined well together and generally used the conditions well. Alfeld was initially replaced at halftime by Jeremy Su'a but the Manu Samoa halfback only lasted a couple of minutes before getting a nasty bump in the eye from one of his own players at a breakdown situation and when the eye closed up, he was unable to return.
Centre Fonotia impressed with his power and Lowe looked sharp coming on at halftime for George Millar, play not running Millar's way.
There are injury issues starting to build up and in that regard, Keane has brought in Auckland NPC and Blues Super Rugby squad member, outside back Albert Nikora into the squad on loan for two weeks to cover for Tom Marshall, Mitchell Scott and Bryce Heem.
It's unsure when any of these players will be available and lock Joe Wheeler also joined the injured list. He tweaked a knee in training last week and did not take the field, Levi being called in and Keane said Wheeler is likely to be out for at least a week.
Keane was pleased to come away from Palmerston North with five points in the bank.
"I thought we were flat in the first half. It was difficult conditions into a blustery wind. We looked for a little bit of control and urgency. We were mucking around with things (in the first half).
"Those conditions being what they were, the urgency we showed in the second half in gaining a semblance of authority and finishing off was a big plus. We can move forward with confidence."
The Makos have little time to rest on their winning laurels heading into Wednesday's match and Keane was unsure when he would name his team for that game.
Tasman Makos 27 (Peter Betham, Robbie Malneek, James Lowe, Jordan Taufua tries, Andrew Goodman 2 con, pen)
Manawatu 3 (Craig Clare pen).
Half-time: Tasman Makos 8 Manawatu 3.
The Marlborough Express