The Tasman Mako are beginning to look more and more like the real deal in 2018.
A 32-20 bonus point victory over the previously-unbeaten North Harbour team at Albany on Saturday night has propelled David Havili’s side to the top of the Mitre 10 Cup table after three rounds.
The Mako mixed some spectacular, high-tempo rugby, combining off-loads and diligent backing-up, with efficient set piece play to maintain a slight edge throughout at QBE Stadium.
They led 22-13 at halftime, then survived a Harbour comeback where the home side closed within two points, before kicking clear at the end.
The Mako management will be hoping to see more of All Black squad member Shannon Frizzel this season, the rangy loose forward starting slowly before demonstrating the class that earned him a black jersey as the match opened up.
Also welcomed back was halfback Finlay Christie. He also looked a little rusty at the start, no surprise given his lengthy lay-off, but soon regained his mojo, passing cleverly, sniping with ball in hand, backing up effectively and generally making good decisions.
The entire backline appeared more dangerous throughout. Mitch Hunt, who turned on some fancy footwork and again kicked well from the tee, Havili, Levi Aumua, Tima Faingaanuku, Solomon Alaimalo and Will Jordan appeared full of running and invention. Jordan’s try in the 22nd minute was the product of a superbly-executed move, the sort that works sweetly on the training ground but rarely comes together on match day.
The forwards did not have things all their own way, but by fulltime had won a comfortable points victory.
At times the scrum threatened to completely dominate, then it came under pressure.
The lineout drive was effective, without producing points, while the lineout itself was generally secure on their own ball.
Jed Brown had another strong game, doing a lot of the unfashionable work, Ethan Blackadder at his side, while locks Quinten Strange and Pari Pari Parkinson are becoming pivotal at the heart of the set pieces.
Tyrel Lomax demonstrated why he is becoming one of the most talked-about young props on the national scene.
When the Mako played their high-tempo, high-risk game they looked comfortable, more so than when they opted for a structured approach.
Long may they continue to employ the former style. It won’t always come off, but it sure is exciting to watch.
Head coach Leon MacDonald described it as “a tough old fight, but we got there in the end”.
“I thought we played really well. We had a couple of calls that would have extended the score line [go against us] and a bit more attention to detail cost us a couple of tries … but we created plenty and it was good enough for a win.
“I was really pleased with how we took control in the second half. Our forwards stepped up and put the screws on. Mitch Hunt had an outstanding game at 10, using his boot well and getting that balance between keeping it tight and also using it to width as well.
“Shannon Frizell was a force tonight … we obviously used him a lot, we wanted to get our money’s worth with him having only one week back with us …”
Next up is a return trip to the City of Sails, taking on the unbeaten Auckland on Friday evening.