Tasman get timely reminder

Centre Levi Aumua was a powerful presence in the Tasman midfield at Trafalgar Park. Photo: Shuttersport.

You would hardly term it a wake-up call.

After all, the Tasman Mako have been probably the most wide awake team running around the NPC so far this season.

Sunday’s battling 21-17 victory over North Harbour at Trafalgar Park was more of a timely reminder that, if you are even slightly off your game in the Mitre 10 premiership, you will pay for it.

Fortunately for the Mako, they found a way to get the job done against a well-organised Harbour outfit who certainly deserved more than the one point they picked up in Nelson.

Immediately following a clinical 80-minute effort against Counties Manukau the previous week, the Mako turned on an error-laden first half. It began at set piece time. Their scrum was bullied, their lineout accuracy went out the window and they were hustled and harassed at breakdown time.

Harbour were good value for their 17-7 lead at the break, having got their tactics spot on, an effort bearing the hallmark of their coach, former Mako mentor Kieran Keane.

He would not have been so happy with their second 40 minutes though as the Mako, buoyed by some key substitutions, controlled possession, applied pressure and reversed the flow of penalties from referee Richard Kelly’s whistle.

Pressure produces points and eventually the tries came, albeit the critical one through a penalty try, a seven-point referee’s gift which matched that awarded to Harbour in the first spell. At least he was consistent.

The Mako will have learned a lot from the match. Top teams need to be able to cope with on-field adversity and scoreboard pressure, a rare situation for the Mako so far this season who have held healthy halftime leads in all of their previous encounters.

Although they definitely have, as they inevitably say, “plenty to work on”, the fact the competition leaders battled back into a match that could have slipped away suggested a resolve that will be needed if they are to go all the way in 2019.

Mako co-head coach Clarke Dermody put a part of his side’s early set piece woes down to “mind-set”.

“Harbour took us on through the front door, at the set piece,” he said.

“If that’s shaky it tends to flow through our game, it was almost catching. In that first half we just couldn’t get going because of that.”

Dermody said there were no major tactical changes made at halftime. “It was more a bit of a mental barb around bringing a bit more intensity in our carry and our collision, around the breakdown.

“In the first half they were sending a lot [of players] in and slowing our ball down. That was good tactics from them and we didn’t quite match that.

“Once we got that area sorted we were able to get go-forward and hold the ball … then gaps started to open. Were we quite clinical enough? Probably not, but to get a win like that says a lot about the team.

“We are in a position [on the table] where every team is going to bring a lot of intensity and their A game every week … because of how we have been playing. If you are off a wee bit then anyone can beat you.

“I feel our guys understand that, but today was probably a good wee reminder of what it actually looks like.”

For Mako fans the Harbour match was something of a reality check.

The fashion in which their side had disposed of their first five opponents may have created some false optimism and feeling that the men in red and blue only had to turn up to win.

Harbour’s stern challenge could not have come at a better time for a side, and its supporters, who both have high expectations.

Waikato await in Hamilton on Saturday. How the Mako respond after a below-par performance will be significant.

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