Makos missing key faces

JONATHAN MCKEOWN
Last updated 13:00 08/01/2014
makos
ALDEN WILLIAMS/FAIRFAX NZ
FITTER AND FOCUSED: Vice-captain Mitchell Hunt, left, and Daniel Hytongue provide strike power in the Tasman sevens squad.

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The Tasman Makos sevens side head into this weekend's national competition without any of their Super Rugby strike power.

A 12-man Turf Hotel Tasman sevens squad has been named to contest the national tournament in Rotorua. However, the coaching staff are frustrated that none of the players Tasman sought to have released have been made available.

All Blacks Sevens squad member Bryce Heem has not been "freed up" by the New Zealand Rugby Union to play at the tournament, beginning on Saturday. Likewise, Tevita Koloamatangi, Billy Guyton, James Lowe and Marty Banks are unavailable due to Super Rugby squad commitments.

Tasman coaching staff member Sam Gibbens said the Makos would always support their players making it to the next level, but from a coaching standpoint, it was disappointing not to have the best players available.

"It is frustrating not to have those guys and their leadership," he said. "Think of what those boys could offer to this team for the young guys and the new guys who have come in. We will miss that.

"It is always good to have a development group but you always have new names and players, and we can't pick out of all our Tasman Makos boys. We are just relying on club players and academy boys."

Compounding the problem is the amount of experience on the injury list, with Trael Joass, Fletcher Matthews and Robbie Malneek not considered for selection.

"We want all our players to be fully fit, and those are more key players we are missing," Gibbens said. "We would love to have them on board, but that is another thing that we can't control."

What can be done, has been. Gibbens said the core of the team that qualified for the national tournament - beating South Island champions Canterbury along the way - was in top shape.

Following a week off over the Christmas period, the players were put through their paces and impressed the coaches with their performance in the yo-yo test held before the holidays. Gibbens said the players had responded to the call to improve their fitness, coming back "a level or two" above where they had been.

This signals that Gibbens has the right men, ready to give their all for the Makos jersey.

"At the end of the day, we have guys that are committed to this team, and we think we have got those guys working well together."

The squad will look to captain James Lash and vice-captain Mitchell Scott to lead them around the park and create opportunities. Sione Holani and William Umu will be important in the forwards, while Kaide Whiting and Daniel Hytongue have shown that they can excel in the shortened format.

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Tasman have been grouped with three North Island teams - Northland, Counties Manukau and Bay of Plenty. The Makos will be an unknown quantity, but it is a double-edged sword, as Tasman have only seen their opponents in their televised qualifiers.

From watching those tournaments, one thing is clear to the Taman coaching staff - they won't be seeking heavy contact.

"Those teams are going to be a lot bigger than us. If we try and take them on up front, it will be a long day for us," Gibbens said.

"We will be going out there looking to stay away from the contact. We will look to the speed and skills we have. Our weapon is our playmakers. They can use the ball to put guys into space."

Tasman have made good starts at their two tournaments so far this season, beating Canterbury on both occasions. Gibbens said it was important to start well again at the nationals, and to maintain that standard and build throughout.

"We are looking to make it into the top eight. We want to make it to the championship grade on the second day. We will take it game by game, but we want to win all our games on the first day."

Tasman's first game is against host side Bay of Plenty at 1.45pm. They then have a three-hour break before playing Counties at 5.05pm, and a quick turnaround for a 6.25pm game against Northland. The finals begin on Sunday.

SkySport 4 will have coverage of selected games on Saturday and the finals on Sunday.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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