Self-belief crucial for a boilover
Getting over the loss of their brilliant young No 8 Jordan Taufua is just one of the hurdles the Tasman Makos rugby team must clear if they are to win tomorrow night's NPC Championship semifinal clash against Otago.
Taufua, taken back by Canterbury as per the loan agreement of the New Zealand under- 20 player, is bad enough and would not have done anything to boost the confidence of a team thrashed by bottom-placed North Harbour last Saturday in Nelson.
On top of that, classy Crusaders fullback Tom Marshall pulled out yesterday with a shoulder injury, former All Black prop Campbell Johnstone has succumbed to the calf muscle injury which has dogged him over the latter part of the season and brilliant wing Robbie Malneek is out after suffering serious leg damage in a tackle during the North Harbour game.
Four first choice players gone, and Marshall's loss means probably skipper and second five-eighth Andrew Goodman will take over the all-important task of kicking for goal.
Taufua's departure necessitated a revamp of the forward pack; without his power running, obviously the game plan will need to be tweaked.
Tevita Koloamatangi who has played well at six in recent matches, switches to eight, regular lock Joe Wheeler goes to six, a position he's not unfamiliar with and on the plus side, experienced lock Filipo Levi returns from injury, his hard working style much needed.
Outstanding flanker Shane Christie is back as well from injury, his enthusiasm and skills sorely missed last week.
James Lowe replaces Malneek on the left wing and classy wing Peter Betham is back in the starting XV following half a game off last week. Jeremy Su'a replaced Steve Alfeld at halfback and Auckland loan player Albert Nikoro replaces Marshall at fullback, Sione Holani coming onto the bench.
Makos coaches Kieran Keane and his assistant Leon MacDonald somehow have to bring their team up mentally for the challenge coming off last Saturday's shocker.
They must instil enough self-belief that they can beat a team they have never previously beaten in the history of this competition on their home track at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.
This competition is all about mental application on the day, probably more important than the respective abilities of each team which, in this case, at least on paper anyway, look fairly evenly matched.
Watching how rank underdogs North Harbour took them apart should give the Makos players the belief that they too can overcome the odds and finally lay their Otago ghost to rest.
Otago too lost last weekend, to premiership semifinalists Auckland but showed the type of spirit and never-say-die attitude which has impressed during their campaign this year.
They are a tough side, they do have plenty of talent but they too have injuries to key players who have been ruled out, notably captain and No 8 Paul Grant, lock Tom Franklin and prop Tama Tuirirangi.
Having All Black loose-forward Adam Thomson back in their team is a big boost.
Keane is desperately hoping his team's 2012 resurgence continues with a win in Dunedin.
"We were a bit flat at training on Tuesday. Difficult to know how they will respond.
"They have taken a physical and mental bang. Different players and tactics from us but not huge [change of tactics].
"We go in as underdogs, but we are used to that. That might be a good thing.
"We didn't respond well last week as favourites."
Keane has high regard for the way Otago have played as a team this season.
He says as well as having plenty of talented players, he admires the gritty way they hang in there, something they showed the last time the two teams met when the Makos shot out to a 13-3 lead only to eventually lose 13-39.
The Makos have already enjoyed a vastly improved season to last year and a win tomorrow night would surely be one of the union's finest moments.
HOW THEY LINE UP
Tasman Makos: Albert Nikoro, Peter Betham, Kieron Fonotia, Andrew Goodman (cpt), James Lowe, Hayden Cripps, Jeremy Su'a, Tevita Koloamatangi, Shane Christie, Joe Wheeler, Riki Hoeata, Filipo Levi, Sam Prattley, Quentin MacDonald, Tim Perry.
Subs: Francis Smith, Reuben Northover, Vernon Fredericks, Gary Redmond, Steve Alfeld, Mitchell Scott, Sione Holani.
Otago: Tony Ensor, Marshall Suckling, Jayden Spence, Glenn Dickson, Buxton Popoali'i, Hayden Parker, Fumiaki Tanaka, Gareth Evans, Allan Lee, Adam Thomson, Rob Verbakel, Jackson Hemopo, Liam Coltman, Sam Heather, Aki Seiuli.
Subs: Shota Horie, Jacob Ellison, Adam Hill, T J Ioane, Peter Breen, Michael Collins, Hugh Blake.
Kick-off: 7.35pm Friday.
The Marlborough Express