Tasman stick with winning formula
The biggest moment in the Tasman Makos' eight-year history has arrived.
Tomorrow night, at Trafalgar Park in Nelson, the Makos host the Hawke's Bay Magpies in the ITM Cup championship final. A victory for the home side will not only give them their first NPC crown since they were established in 2006, it will also earn them promotion to the competition's premiership division in 2014.
With their entertaining high-octane brand of rugby, Tasman have been the best team in the championship this season. Eight wins from ten round-robin matches and a convincing 49-28 semifinal victory over Southland in Blenheim last weekend are evidence of that.
However, all that will count for much less if they stumble at the final hurdle, and tomorrow's title decider against a more than capable Magpies outfit is far from a foregone conclusion.
Finals rugby rarely is and, despite going in underdogs, Hawke's Bay will be optimistic they can spoil the party. Especially after they went down to Tasman by only nine points at the same venue just over a month ago, before going to Dunedin and tipping over Otago in their semifinal on Sunday.
Given the Makos are on a six-match winning streak and coming off a 21-point victory, it is not a huge surprise there is just one, injury enforced, change to their side. In-form flanker Tevita Koloamatangi was ruled out earlier this week with concussion and with skipper Shane Christie returning from the same ailment to claim his No 7 jersey, Gary Redmond moves on to the blindside.
Tasman assistant coach Leon MacDonald said there was not enough reason to change a winning formula.
"It's pretty hard to change a winning team and I think we are getting a lot off the guys on the bench too . . . you always look closely, but the balance seems right.
"The guys starting are doing a good job and we are getting impact off the bench which is also important, especially in a final when it's going to be pretty torrid and tiring, the whole 22 are vital. Keeping a good thing going, that is our thinking."
Although the Makos did enough to secure a win over Southland, basic errors and poor decision-making at various stages kept the Stags in the match for longer than they should have been. Improving on those aspects had been a focus this week, but MacDonald said the team's attack-minded style meant "those things probably get brought up every week."
"We know finals are about executing well and applying pressure, so all those sorts of things have been talked about at length. To be fair, though, we have not changed a hell of a lot all year and [Hawke's Bay] will know that as they look through the video. We'd be silly to go and change something, it's just about fine-tuning and then developing a bit of a plan for Hawke's Bay."
Overall, Tasman's preparation this week had gone well, with the players given extra rest to ensure they are physically and mentally ready for what is expected to be a close final. And although they had viewed the footage of their 18-9 win over the Magpies in round-robin, MacDonald said that was an "ugly game" they could not take a lot out of. He felt that if the weather played ball, tomorrow night's match could be a much higher-scoring affair.
He was not exactly sure about what to expect from Hawke's Bay, who are sweating on the availability of loose-forward and captain Mike Coman and centre Andrew Horrell, but acknowledged they were not a side to be taken lightly in any department.
"They've got probably the most dangerous attacking first five in the competition, an All Black at fullback and a midfield that is very dangerous. They've got strikepower there and we saw against Otago that their forwards don't mind mixing it and they gave Wellington a hiding up-front the week before that."
All that taken into account, Tasman have home advantage and a confident group of players desperate to be the first Makos team to lift some silverware. For many of them the match might be a career highlight, but MacDonald felt they were ready to do the business.
"Being in familiar surroundings like their own beds and having friends and family around them all helps. They are just excited more than anything. This has been our goal all year, to make the final and to get it at home is a real bonus.
"It's a big game and a lot of guys haven't even played in a final in club rugby, so it's a different occasion for a lot of them, but they're a tight group and they'll draw strength from each other and they'll get through it together."
CHAMPIONSHIP FINAL FACTS
Tasman Makos v Hawke's Bay
Where: Trafalgar Park, Nelson.
When: Tomorrow, 7.35pm kickoff.
Tasman Makos: Tim Perry, Quentin MacDonald, Sila Puafisi, Alex Ainley, Joe Wheeler, Gary Redmond, Shane Christie (c), Liam Squire, Billy Guyton, Marty Banks, Mitchell Scott, Tom Marshall, Kieron Fonotia, Bryce Heem, James Lowe.
Reserves: Francis Smith, Siua Halanukonuka, Tevita Cavubati, Vernon Fredericks, Mark Swanepoel, Andrew Symons, Robbie Malneek.
Hawke's Bay (probable): Max Lahiff, Ash Dixon, Bredon Edmonds, Michael Allardice, Mark Abbott, Mike Coman (c), Brendon O'Connor, Karl Lowe, Alby Mathewson, Ihaia West, Mikey Vuicakau, Andrew Horrell, Richard Buckman, Telusa Veainu, Zac Guildford.
Reserves: Ged Robinson, Adrian Barone, Trent Bosswell-Wakefield, Mark Atkins, Chris Eaton, Adam Bradley, Penikolo Latu.
Referee: Glen Jackson.
Last match: September 22, 2013: Tasman 18 Hawke's Bay 9 at Trafalgar Park, Nelson.
Head-to-head: Played 6: Tasman 4 wins, Hawke's Bay 2 wins.
TAB odds: Tasman $1.35, Hawke's Bay $3.00.
Weather forecast: Rain clearing afternoon. Gusty westerlies. High 18 degrees.
The Marlborough Express