Southern hoodoo killed off
They might drive you crazy but they'll certainly keep you entertained.
The Tasman Makos have finally beaten their Southland hoodoo after a dramatic 13-10 ITM Cup rugby win over the Stags at Blenheim's Lansdowne Park last night.
It was Tasman's first win over Southland in five encounters and their third win in what's fast becoming a landmark season for the Makos. For Southland though, it was a continuation of their miserable campaign after slumping to their fourth straight defeat.
Yet once again, Tasman dragged their coaching staff and supporters through a whole gamut of emotions as they mixed errors and turnovers with some spectacular attacking play, including arguably two of the best individual tries seen in this year's competition.
Winger Peter Betham and fullback Robbie Malneek provided the individual brilliance, Betham finishing a superb solo 50m run to score Tasman's only first half try, beating five defenders in the process, to help put the home team ahead 5-3 at the break.
Malneek responded in kind just two minutes after the restart when he gathered the ball 20m out from his own line before veering left and leaving defenders in his wake in an astonishing sprint for the corner to extend Tasman's lead to 10-3.
It was Malneek's fourth try of the season, putting him at the top of the individual tryscorers list alongside Auckland fullback Charles Piutau.
Tasman clearly looked the most threatening side whenever they could string enough phases together as Betham, Malneek, centre Kieran Fonotia, No 8 Jordan Taufua and flanker Shane Christie each asked demanding questions of an often pressured Southland defence.
However, Tasman's problems again centred around holding the ball long enough to sustain any attacking momentum and in adjusting to referee Grant Stuart's strict interpretation at the breakdown, where he constantly found fault with Tasman's execution.
It meant plenty of early possession and field position for the visitors, despite Southland struggling to take advantage of Tasman's benevolence.
Betham's and Malneek's spectacular contributions appeared to finally have momentum swinging Tasman's way. But inevitable infringements and turnovers continued to plague Tasman's performance as Southland remained well in the hunt.
Southland eventually got back on even terms 24 minutes into the second half when substitute halfback Nemia Kenatale latched on to an unsecured Robbie Robinson bomb kick to break deep into Tasman's half, substitute lock Alex Ryan finally emerging from a pileup on the line to barge across. Substitute first five-eighth Scott Eade's conversion levelled the scores at 10-all.
Tasman eventually restored their winning edge at 13-10 through a 28th minute penalty to first five-eighth Hayden Cripps, Andrew Goodman having handed over the kicking duties after missing all four of his previous attempts at goal. Then Tasman held on over the agonising final stages as Southland threw everything into attack. This time Tasman's discipline held firm, the home team showing plenty of character to hold the Southlanders out before eventually celebrating an historic win.
Despite his unsuccessful kicking efforts, captain and second five-eighth Goodman was otherwise solid in Tasman's midfield and he expressed feelings of both relief and pride after a pulsating finish.
"I was really proud of the boys the way they dug deep at the end there, it was awesome," he said.
Again though, he was only too aware of his team's shortcomings.
"It was just a matter of those little things, ball placing and getting a good cleanout, a couple of things to work on. But you could see that when we hold the ball through some phases, we can get some good attack going."
Tasman's lineout was an eyesore, skittery and unreliable. But the scrum was superb, anchored impressively by Campbell Johnstone, Quentin MacDonald, Tim Perry and eventually Sam Prattley as a late substitute.
Taufua, Christie and Gary Redmond formed an impressive loose trio, even if Christie became an unwanted focus of referee Stuart's attentions at the breakdowns.
Relieved Tasman head coach Kieran Keane praised his players' resilience.
"The end was not scripted, so it was nice to come out with a win. It could easily have turned pear-shaped," he said.
"There's a lot of toughness [within the team], a lot of resilience, which was missing early in the season. That's really pleasing, because it means we are together as a group and the chips were down.
"We had sort of fluffed everything after having complete control and so there were big pluses and minuses.
"We had a little bit of a frenetic nature about the game and we just needed to calm down, take a deep breath and take the emotion out of the game - get back to some clinical stuff, some bread and butter stuff."
Tasman must now regroup again ahead of Sunday's clash with Northland, also in Blenheim.
AT A GLANCE
Tasman 13 (Peter Betham, Robbie Malneek tries, Hayden Cripps pen) Southland 10 (Alex Ryan try, Marty McKenzie pen, Scott Eade con) Ht Tasman 5-3.
- © Fairfax NZ News