Tasman butcher try chances
Northland goalkicker Ash Moeke's earning quite a reputation as a dead-set marksman.
He doesn't miss many. So when he's gifted a straightforward penalty attempt virtually dead in front with time up and the score locked at 17-all, it's game over.
And so it transpired, the unflappable Northland No 10 kicking his team to a valuable, if desperate, 20-17 ITM Cup rugby win over the Tasman Makos at Blenheim's Lansdowne Park yesterday.
It ended Tasman's hopes of winning three consecutive games for the first time in their seven-year history, their record now sitting at three wins and two losses for the season. It also ended a testing week for a Tasman side playing its third game in eight days.
Tasman showed plenty of attacking endeavour throughout the contest, although ultimately managed just one try to Northland's two, even taking a potentially match-winning 17-10 lead with about a quarter of the match remaining.
But an attacking mindset demands certain responsibilities, with ball security among the most critical. Too often Tasman mangled genuine try-scoring opportunities by throwing loose passes or simply allowing Northland to get their hands on the ball. And it cost Tasman victory.
Northland had led 10-3 at halftime, second five-eighth Derek Carpenter scoring the game's opening try late in the half when he crashed over following a series of attacking phases inside Tasman's quarter.
With Moeke and Tasman No 10 Hayden Cripps having traded earlier penalties, a further two Cripps penalties shortly after the restart helped reduce Tasman's deficit to 10-9. And with Northland flanker Jack Ram shown a yellow card by referee Mike Fraser for infringing near his own line, Tasman finally capped a concerted period of attack when lock Filipo Levi barged across from a pick and go to give Tasman their first lead at 14-10.
A long-range penalty success by second five-eighth Andrew Goodman extended Tasman's lead to 17-10 midway through the half as the home team appeared to be generating some momentum.
But a critical turnover, with Tasman mounting another counterattack, saw Northland wing Mateo Malupo carve through a disorganised Tasman defence from about 55m out to level the scores at 17-all with around 10 minutes remaining.
Tasman appeared to have at least salvaged a draw when bullocking No 8 Jordan Taufua burst clear from a breakdown in the final minute. Referee Fraser figured differently, presenting Moeke with the handiest of penalty opportunities to gift Northland the win.
Tasman coach Kieran Keane wasn't about to sugar-coat his players' efforts or offer them any respite after their physically demanding three-game stretch.
"I thought we were pretty average in the first half," said Keane.
"We had ample opportunities to break them open [but] threw away the ball and showed no respect for the possession, ran a pretty tired team around and paid the price.
"There were, as I say, ample opportunities to build a lead and we squandered most of the opportunities on offer. [The team] got a rark-up at halftime, came back and built some pressure to fight back and gain a lead, but then took a few shortcuts again when the pressure came on and paid dearly for it."
Keane certainly wasn't offering the team's hectic eight-day schedule as any sort of excuse.
"It's about looking after the ball, it's about creating your own fortune and not reacting to what's going on. We just didn't control much in the last 10 minutes. . . possibly we'd run out of petrol, but being out of petrol is more mental than anything else.
"I thought we were a little bit soft mentally to be honest.
"We can't dwell on this; we've got to get back on the horse, get a bit honest about things and go down to Otago [next Sunday] and do our best. If we wallow in our own self-pity, we're going nowhere."
Tasman fullback Robbie Malneek attempted to provide his customary attacking thrust from the back, with wing Peter Betham again threatening, although guilty of coughing up possession with the hard work done. And he wasn't the only one.
"It was pretty disappointing . . . nothing clicked for us out there today," said Malneek.
"I just think we didn't turn up to play today and we paid for it. We weren't accurate enough at the breakdown.
"If we don't look after our own ball, that's the winning and losing of the game really."
With Tasman ahead 17-10, Malneek certainly recognised a winning opportunity.
"Yeah, we felt in control, but just stupid errors came into our our game. I don't know if it was fatigue or anything but we'll just have to look at the video and see what it was."
There was some positive news for Tasman, with Tom Marshall returning from a virtual three-month injury layoff to add extra spark to the team's attacking options.
No 8 Taufua again hit the ball up strongly, with flankers Shane Christie and Gary Redmond now starting to form a potent combination with their tireless pursuit of the ball. But Taufua also echoed his coach's sentiments, lamenting the team's poor ball security.
"We didn't look after our ball, we didn't respect our ball and that cost us at the end of the game.
"Three games in a short turnaround is really hard on the body, but we can't use that as an excuse. We have to turn up, and mentally and physically they were beating us out there."
Tasman now have a full week to ponder their recovery strategies before confronting Otago at Dunedin's Forsyth Barr Stadium next Sunday.
AT A GLANCE
Northland 20 (Derek Carpenter, Mateo Malupo tries, Ash Moeke 2 pens, 2 cons) Tasman 17 (Filipo Levi try, Hayden Cripps 3 pens, Andrew Goodman pen) Ht 10-3.
- © Fairfax NZ News