Makos ready to face the juggernaut
Given the TAB odds for tomorrow's NPC clash at Lansdowne Park in Blenheim, you would be hard pressed to convince a neutral observer the Tasman Makos opted to play Canterbury.
Despite a promising 25-15 first-up win over Southland in Invercargill last weekend, not to mention the Makos' two wins over the Red and Blacks in the past two seasons, Tasman go into tomorrow's match as $4.50 outsiders. Canterbury are, of course, the four-time defending premiership division champions and also got off to a impressive start last weekend with a 30-6 victory over Taranaki in Christchurch. However, Makos head coach Kieran Keane said they had no hesitation in selecting to play their big brother province in one of Tasman's four cross-over matches.
"They're a juggernaut organisation and it's a great challenge," said Keane. "We look forward to this challenge annually, we always pick Canterbury as our measuring stick and that's why we choose to play them every year. It's about measuring ourselves and how we step up and stand up to them . . . it's a good challenge and we're excited by it."
Besides beating Canterbury last year and in 2011, Keane and his assistant Leon MacDonald have plenty of reason to believe their side can do the business again tomorrow after a good pre-season and Tasman's first ever victory in Invercargill last weekend. And just one week into the 2013 competition, there is already strong competition for places.
There are four changes to the Tasman side from the Southland win and, although first five-eighth Hayden Cripps and wing Bryce Heem both come back in after recovering from injuries, the two changes up front are both form-related. Tevita Koloamatangi gets the start at No 8 ahead of Samoan international George Stowers, while Siua Halanukonuka starts at tighthead prop in place of Tongan international Sila Puafisi.
Keane indicated the thinking behind promoting Koloamatangi and Halanukonuka was simple.
"[The changes up front] they're form-related and it's about creating a competitive environment and getting the best out of people. Siua Halanukonuka has been in outstanding form, as has Tevita Koloamatangi, and there's a few niggles within the team so it's better to start the chap that's fresher, free of injury and niggles, so that's what we've done."
As for the other two changes, following the indefinite loss of 74-game veteran Robbie Malneek with a hamstring injury, Keane said it was nice to have first-choice No 10 Cripps and NZ Sevens star Heem back in the mix.
"Having Crippsy and Bryce back is a plus for us because they've been about and they've experienced this level of football before. It's quite pleasing. It's just a change of personnel, the thinking the style and the structure won't change . . . what are they going to add, I guess we'll wait and see, but they have been form players."
While there were a number of positives to take from last weekend's win, Keane was not getting carried away. This week had been about adding "a little bit of polish" to their game, particularly in terms of taking try-scoring chances and organising the defence.
"I think we had Southland on the ropes midway through the first half and we failed to convert all those opportunities, so we've done a fair bit on our team-work. Hopefully we'll be able to convert those opportunities on Saturday because we'll really need to nail them.
"Our defence was good in the fact we didn't concede any tries . . . but there were a few issues for us and we've addressed all of those and hopefully we'll be on song."
A young, new-look Canterbury side easily dispatched Taranaki in round one. Coach Scott Robertson lost backs Tom Taylor and Colin Slade and loose-forward Luke Whitelock to the All Blacks earlier in the week, but he also regained the services of prop Joe Moody and Ryan Crotty from the national side, plus skipper and flanker George Whitelock from injury. Add names like Andy Ellis, Matt Todd, Tyler Bleyendaal, Patrick Osborne and former Mako Jordan Taufua to the fold and you have a very capable side.
Keane, though, remains quietly confident his charges have what it takes to prove the bookmakers wrong for a third straight year.
"I think we're buoyed by how we're tracking and the players are feeling confident in their own ability, I certainly am confident in their ability. It's about converting our opportunities and stepping up to the challenge that Canterbury are going to bring because it's David and Goliath, really."
BIG MATCH FACTS
Tasman Makos v Canterbury
Where: Lansdowne Park.
When: 2.35pm kickoff.
Tasman Makos: Tom Marshall, Bryce Heem, Kieron Fonotia, Andy Symons, James Lowe, Hayden Cripps, Mark Swanepoel, Tevita Koloamatangi, Shane Christie (c), Liam Squire, Joe Wheeler, Alex Ainley, Siua Halanukonuka, Quentin MacDonald, Tim Perry.
Reserves: Francis Smith, Sila Puafisi, Tevita Cavubati, George Stowers, Kaide Whiting, Billy Guyton, Mitchell Scott.
Canterbury: Jamie Verran, Patrick Osborne, Adam Whitelock, Ryan Crotty, Milford Keresoma, Tyler Bleyendaal, Andy Ellis, Jordan Taufua, Matt Todd, George Whitelock, Luke Katene, Matt Symons, Nepo Laulala, Ben Funnell, Joe Moody. Subs: Marcel Cummings-Toone, Paea Fa'anunun, Joel Everson, Jed Brown, Willi Heinz, Richie Mounga, Ron Thompson.
Referee: Sheldon Eden-Whaitiri.
Assistant referees: D Woodhouse, P Gurr.
Last year's result between the two teams: Tasman 25 beat Canterbury 22 at Trafalgar Park, Nelson.
TAB odds: Tasman Makos $4.50, Canterbury $1.17.
Weather forecast: Cloud increasing, northerlies. High 16 degrees.
- The Marlborough Express