Makos play sharper to get the goodies
The Tasman Makos produced the perfect tonic for last week's disappointments with a spirited 27-3 ITM Cup rugby win over Manawatu in Palmerston North yesterday.
The defence improved too. After conceding five tries in their epic 49-40 Ranfurly Shield loss to Taranaki, yesterday they kept their tryline intact as a one-dimensional Manawatu side battled to penetrate a more urgent and accurate Tasman defensive line.
More significantly, Tasman's victory earned them a crucial try-scoring bonus point after bullocking substitute No 8 Jordan Taufua barged across in the final minute from a tap penalty close to Manawatu's line.
There was some controversy, with referee Kane McBride engaging in a lengthy discussion with his TMO before finally awarding the try and securing Tasman's first five-point championship haul in 15 games, since beating Northland 34-29 in 2010.
A wet and windy FMG Stadium in Palmerston North certainly wasn't conducive to attack, making Tasman's attitude all the more admirable.
The execution wasn't always clinical as occasional forced passes, spilled ball and a string of second-half penalties again conspired to frustrate Tasman. But they were clearly the dominant side as, apart from one late threatening second-half break by first five-eighth Tomasi Cama, Manawatu never looked like breaching Tasman's line or disrupting their hold on the match.
It didn't take long for Tasman to strike, stunning the home team with a perfectly executed set-piece try in just the second minute after fullback Robbie Malneek made excellent ground from a scrum deep inside their own half before inpassing to impressive winger Peter Betham for an early 5-0 lead. A penalty to second five-eighth Andrew Goodman, after a period of sustained Tasman attack, edged them further ahead 8-0.
Manawatu winger Craig Clare didn't help his team's cause, kicking just one of four first-half penalty attempts with a useful wind at his back as Tasman took a slender 8-3 lead into the halftime break.
Tasman struck again directly after the restart, Malneek chasing down a superbly judged grubber kick by his first five-eighth Hayden Cripps to extend their lead to 13-3.
Manawatu's forwards showed better control into the second half wind, but apart from Cama's late break, their backs showed little imagination against a tight Tasman defence.
Tasman struggled to get their hands on the ball for extended periods, but with just nine minutes remaining, a turnover eventually saw substitute winger James Lowe score after a sniping run and slick offload by his halfback Steve Alfeld to secure a 20-3 lead before Taufua sealed the win in the dying moments.
While delighted with the five points, skipper Goodman was nevertheless critical of aspects of his team's first half execution.
"We were a little bit all over the show, throwing offloads that we didn't really need to," Goodman said.
"But the boys stuck at it in the second half and used the wind that was there and yeah, really happy to come away with the bonus point."
Coach Kieran Keane was similarly jubilant about the end result but like his captain, wary of overstating his team's performance.
"I'm really happy to come away with five points, that was great," said Keane.
"We had a pretty average start, we were flat, and injected a bit of life at halftime and we got going again. It wasn't perfect and it wasn't very tidy, but it's the old adage, if you can play average but still get the chocolates, then they're not too bad are they?"
Keeping their line intact was among the more positive aspects of his team's performance.
"Defence was the whole focus all week, so that was a real plus. [Manawatu] weren't that threatening because of the type of game they were playing and the conditions. We were stretched, but we weren't overly tested."
Winger Betham showed plenty of attacking punch during the first half and new flanker Gary Redmond was dynamic, both in his quest for the ball and as a critical part of the team's improved defence.
Halfback Alfeld showed some clever touches on attack and Cripps also showed excellent composure in a controlled display.
And as they'd done in the win over Canterbury, Tasman's bench provided plenty of seamless impact, with lock Filipo Levi and Taufua adding power and aggression to Tasman's second-half forward effort.
Meanwhile, Tasman have brought in former New Zealand secondary schools fullback Albert Nikoro on a two-week deal to help cover injuries to fullback Tom Marshall, centre Bryce Heem and winger Mitchell Scott. The 20-year-old Auckland-based Nikoro can also cover wing, with Tasman facing three games in seven days. They play Southland on Wednesday and Northland on Sunday, both games at Blenheim's Lansdowne Park.
The Nelson Mail