The Tasman Mako picked up a vital five points and kept themselves in the race to host a Mitre 10 Cup semi-final with a hard-fought 28-22 win over Wellington in the capital on Saturday night.
With Auckland being upset by Otago in Auckland, the Mako now top the premiership table with seven wins from eight games.
The Mako led 13-10 at halftime, the sides scoring a try apiece.
Finlay Christie picked up the game’s first five-pointer after a silky break by fullback Will Jordan, while Wellington replied through live-wire prop Xavier Numia.
A second penalty goal by Mitch Hunt on the stroke of halftime ensured the Mako held a deserved lead at the break, after dominating territory, possession and on the penalty count.
Tasman opened the second spell in sensational fashion, winger Solomon Alaimalo scoring almost immediately after the restart as the Mako forwards began to assert their dominance, especially at set piece.
Loose forward Jacob Norris celebrated his debut with the Mako’s third try before replacement John Akau’ola-Laula ranged wide to pick up Tasman’s fourth with 10 minutes remaining.
Despite a strong finish from the Lions, the Mako held firm to move to the top of the premiership table.
Tasman skipper David Havili had praise for both his bench and the men with the low numbers on their backs.
“I’m really proud of the way the boys stuck at it in the last 20 minutes … the bench came on and really lifted us.
“We have got great players up front and full credit to the front row – they were awesome tonight.”
Tasman head coach Leon MacDonald was also particularly happy with his tight five, suggesting they had set the tone for his side’s performance.
“I’m really proud of the boys tonight, Wellington are a good team – they have been pouring a lot of points on everybody so to hold them like we did was a top effort. The scrum set the attitude … I thought our mauling and our scrum was fantastic. Our tight five were really up for it tonight.”
“We knew how physical their defence was… so we retained the ball for long periods and actually took a bit of sting out of their attacking game because we forced them to make so many tackles.”
He also praised the impact of the bench players, particularly Tim O’Malley and Ray Niuia, who both contributed to try-scoring movements, plus John Akau’ola-Laula, who scored one.
“All our subs played really well, which is pleasing because having confidence to use them is critical heading into the end of the season.”
Next up for the Mako is a match against Otago in Dunedin, at 4.35pm on Sunday.