When you win by 21 points and sit on top of the Mitre 10 Cup table, it’s hard to be too critical of your performance.
But I’m sure the Tasman Mako camp will be looking harshly at some of their work, despite the 45-24 scoreline against Southland at Lansdowne Park on Sunday afternoon.
While nothing can be taken away from a Stags side that tackled their hearts out, the Mako created enough scoring opportunities to run in at least another four or five tries.
They pulled off some new moves, which cleverly created space, only for the final pass or cleanout to let them down on many occasions.
Their defence also leaked four tries, including two in the final 10 minutes, mirroring the Canterbury game last week and taking the gloss off a seven-try bonus point effort.
However, on a balmy Sunday in Blenheim, the positives far outweighed the negatives for the home side.
Both prop Ryan Coxon and first five Tim O’Malley, given their first starting opportunity of the season, impressed. Coxon anchored a dominant scrum and carried well, while O’Malley showed good game sense in the 10 jersey and defended strongly.
The day’s Mako debutant, No 8 Isaiah Miller, also had a day to remember, driving the defensive wall back with ball in hand and hitting hard without it.
Ethan Blackadder was again a standout forward, working equally effectively in defence and attack. David Havili showed the benefit of his experience with a strong showing in midfield, while Solomon Alaimalo and Will Jordan were ever-dangerous in broken play, Jordan’s last-gasp individual try a particularly classy effort to send the fans home happy.
Young locks Quinten Strange and Pari Pari Parkinson continue to impress, carrying out their core roles superbly as well as offering clever touches with ball in hand.
With their set pieces operating well, the Mako had a solid platform to base their game on. However, the breakdown intensity and accuracy that had served them so well against Canterbury was absent for long periods.
After scoring the first try off a forward drive, the Mako leaked two touchdowns to a gutsy opponent who were able to make the most of late offloads. Two tries late in the first spell ensured the home side led at the break, but it was far from the opening 40 the Mako desired.
Head coach Leon MacDonald said the message was clear at halftime, “we just weren’t taking care of the stuff we had talked about doing … we were letting them win the race to the breakdown and coming second there. The players put it on themselves to tidy that area up and I thought we did a better job in the second half, but it was disappointing to lose those little battles in the first half and it kept them right in the game.”
The Mako management went to their bench early in the second spell with, as MacDonald explained, a two-fold objective.
“We need to manage the minutes of some of the critical players, such as David Havili who is coming off a big load and is in a physical position, especially the way he plays it. Plus, there are the other guys who need game time. We need to have a strong squad, not just a strong 15.”
The concession of tries late in the game was a disappointment.
“We talked a lot about playing the whole 80 minutes this week and we definitely didn’t do that,” said MacDonald. “We were on our heels defensively at time – not pushing forward. Whether that was fatigue or just players switching off, we’ll have to work that one out.”
While the Mako will be more than happy to bank five points, especially since they were winless at the same stage last year, they will be under no illusions as to what lies ahead.
While their performance could hardly be termed a “wake-up call” it is a timely reminder that every team in the competition is capable of punishing you if you drop your standards.
Next up for the Mako is a Saturday evening showdown in Albany with fellow table-toppers North Harbour, a team Tasman have traditionally struggled against.
“We are not good enough to turn up and bully teams, we have to bring our A game every week,” warned MacDonald. “You have to get the preparation right off the field each week otherwise you will get second on it.”