Tasman Makos keen to avoid anxious final moments against Stags on Sunday
If you are experiencing feelings of deja vu from watching Tasman in the Mitre 10 Cup this season, be assured, you are not alone.
The Makos have made a habit in recent weeks of keeping their supporters on the edge of their seats until the final whistle. They have won their past three games by two points, all high-scoring encounters in which their opponents finished stronger.
Against Waikato, Wellington and Otago they have had to dig deep during the latter stages to ward off possible defeat after appearing to have a solid grip on the game earlier in the piece.
If ever there was a time for Tasman to turn that stress-inducing tendency around, it is Sunday at Trafalgar Park. Coming to town are Southland, cellar-dwellers in the championship division who are yet to register a single competition point after six games. On Wednesday they lost 57-0 to Bay of Plenty.
No-one would expect Sunday's game to be easy, after all Southland are a proud province who have won four of the nine encounters between the provinces, but if Tasman are to grab a place in the semifinals they must win, and win well. Avoiding last quarter meltdowns would certainly keep head coach Leon MacDonald's blood pressure down.
"A lot of it is about being more clinical, more often," he said. "We've let teams back into games through our mistakes ... we are really happy with what we are creating ... but we need to bring a level of ruthlessness that we haven't seen so far this year."
The Makos selectors have made several changes for the Southland clash, some enforced, others tactical.
"This is a very important game and we certainly are not underestimating Southland at all. But we conscious that we are vulnerable in terms of game time ... we need the whole squad playing well, we need to be able to draw on them at the latter end of the season.
"Also, some little niggles are starting to appear and we want to look after these guys the best we can. We obviously trust our whole squad so we have made a few changes ... hopefully they will provide the energy that we need and a bit of excitement."
The return of loosehead prop Tim Perry from All Blacks duty is a bonus, especially with Isaac Salmon ruled out this week through injury. Tyrel Lomax earns his first start at tighthead after playing most of the second spell against Otago. Siua Halanukonuka will get some time off the bench if he passes a late fitness test.
Quinten Strange is bracketed with veteran Alex Ainley at lock, the younger player set to start if fit, allowing Ainley a much-needed week off.
The only change in the loosies sees Pete Samu replace Vernon Fredericks at seven, a tactical switch.
Finlay Christie trades places with Billy Guyton at halfback while Tim O'Malley has been given his first start in the 10 jersey, Mitch Hunt heading to the bench. "Tim has been working really hard behind the scenes so we have given him an opportunity," explained MacDonald.
With centre Levi Aumua banned for three games after being sent off for a tip tackle against Otago, changes were required in the outside backs. Trael Joass will partner Alex Nankivell in midfield, while Viliami Lolohea comes onto the right wing.
Look for a familiar face among the replacements. Robbie Malneek, the Makos' most-capped player, returns to the fray, providing much-needed experience and versatility among a powerful-looking bench which MacDonald is counting on to provide a positive impact late in the game, obviously an area of concern in recent battles.
At a glance
Sunday, September 24
Tasman Makos v Southland at Trafalgar Park, Nelson, kick off 4.35pm.
Referee: James Doleman
Tasman Makos (probable): Will Jordan, Viliami Lolohea, Trael Joass, Alex Nankivell, James Lowe, Tim O'Malley, Finlay Christie; Jordan Taufua (vice captain), Pete Samu, Ethan Blackadder, Quinten Strange/Alex Ainley, Shannon Frizell, Tyrel Lomax, Andrew Makalio, Tim Perry (captain). Reserves: Ti'i Paulo, Tom Hill, Siua Halanukonuka, Vernon Fredericks, Pari Pari Parkinson, Billy Guyton, Mitch Hunt, Robbie Malneek.
Southland (last team): Lewis Ormond, Mike Molloy, Neria Fomai, Matthew Johnson, Aleki Morris, Scott Eade, Liam Howley; Elliot Dixon, Tupou Sopoaga, Phil Halder, Bill Fukofuka, Tepasu Thomas, Guy Millar, Brayden Mitchell, Joseph Walsh. Bench: Flynn Thomas, Shaun Stodart, Morgan Mitchell, Mike McKee, Tim Boys, Ryan Tongia, Jay Renton, Willie Talataina-Mu.
2016 Tasman 56 Southland 0 (Nelson); 2015 No game; 2014 Tasman 38 Southland 14 (Invercargill); 2013 Tasman 49 Southland 28 (NPC semifinal - Blenheim); 2013 Tasman 25 Southland 15 (Invercargill); 2012 Tasman 13 Southland 10 (Blenheim); 2011 No game; 2010 Southland 21 Tasman 16 (Blenheim).
Tasman: lost to Canterbury 39-0; lost to Manawatu 35-20; beat Waikato 31-29; beat Wellington 37-35; beat Otago 29-27
Southland: lost to Hawke's Bay 24-16; lost to North Harbour 45-20; lost to Northland 44-13; lost to Canterbury 78-20; lost to Auckland 27-17; lost to Bay of Plenty 57-0
Premiership points (as at September 18): Canterbury 25 (played 6), North Harbour 22 (5), Taranaki 21 (5), Tasman 15 (5), Waikato 14 (6), Auckland 11 (6), Counties Manukau 10 (6).