Tasman captain and Highlander Shane Christie, during the Highlanders and Blues at the Forsyth Barr Stadium on Saturday night. Photo: Peter McIntosh.

Nelson’s Super connection

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Tasman Makos fans have ten reasons to get into this year’s Super Rugby competition, with the ITM Cup Championship winners having a record representation across the New Zealand teams.

Never before has the region had so many Super Rugby players, with ten Tasman Makos signing contracts after the successful provincial season – and the good news is all ten will be returning to Nelson for the ITM Cup.

Tasman Rugby Union’s Les Edwards, acknowledges fans’ loyalties and allegiances might be more split in 2014, with those players spread across four different franchises – and with former Tasman prop Sam Prattley at the Blues there is argument that all of the bases are covered.  “I think there’s every chance the Chiefs will become our region’s second favourite team,” he says, after the Crusaders had traditionally been the Super Rugby franchise of choice for most Nelson rugby fans. “The Crusaders is, for most people in our region, their team but the Chiefs are certainly knocking on doors, aren’t they.”

The reason for that is the fact the Chiefs have picked up four Tasman players and they are already making an impact at the two-time champions, with James Lowe running the length of the field to score a try in the dying stages of Friday night’s 18-10 win over the Crusaders. Tevita Koloamatangi, who is only signed on a wider training squad deal, made his Super Rugby debut for the Chiefs, starting at openside flanker. He had a busy first game, marking none other than Richie McCaw.

The two other Makos that will be playing in Hamilton this year are fullback Tom Marshall, who ventures north after two seasons with the Crusaders, but is currently out for the next eight weeks with an injury, and flanker Liam Squire.

In Friday’s opener, Makos fans got a chance to see one of the Crusaders contingent, with Tim Perry handed a starting spot over All Black prop Wyatt Crockett. Kieran Fonotia, who was selected in the wider training squad, is yet to make an appearance.

In the deep south, Shane Christie got his Super Rugby season off to the perfect start, with the Highlanders beating the Blues 29-21. Joe Wheeler is also contracted to the Highlanders this year but did not play in the season opener.

And finally, Marty Banks – who rose to prominence after missing out on an ITM Cup contract with the Makos before steering them to the Championship title – started at fullback for the Hurricanes in their 27-9 loss to the Sharks in Durban. He booted a trademark long range penalty to pick up his first points of the campaign. Marty is joined by Billy Guyton at the Hurricanes, after the Makos halfback secured a wider training squad contract.

There are a number of other players with Nelson connections in each of the franchises, including James Marshall (Hurricanes), Sam Prattley (Blues) and Mitchell Drummond (Crusaders). James and Sam had both played for Tasman, but signed with other ITM Cup teams when their Super future had been decided, but it appears the current crop of Tasman players are happy to come back. “What we would love is for players to stay in the region, play ITM Cup, get themselves a Super Rugby franchise contract but then want to stay and play for us,” says Les. “We’ve got ten guys with contracts and they’re all coming back, and that’s really important.”