Mako fans were reminded of what NPC play-off rugby is all about at Lansdowne Park on Saturday.
And it wasn’t pretty.
The Mitre 10 Cup premiership semi-final, won 18-9 by Tasman, turned into a war of attrition, ultimately decided by a couple of moments of brilliance by the home side.
Auckland came to Blenheim stung by a 40-0 reversal in round-robin play, with a plan to negate Tasman’s traditional strengths and it nearly worked.
For three quarters of the match they held onto possession, slowed down any ball Tasman managed to get their hands on and pressurised the home side into errors of judgement and discipline.
However, the one thing the defending champs couldn’t do was forge a decent lead, thus putting the home side under scoreboard pressure.
Tasman survived the intense semi-final encounter which saw the side lose three key players but ensured its unprecedented season will continue.
The Mako were rattled in the first forty, finding themselves on the wrong side of the referee and scoreboard.
Tasman was dealt two cruel blows inside the opening quarter with Ethan Blackadder dislocating his shoulder and taken from the field.
His replacement Jordan Taufua didn’t last either after being knocked out while attempting to clear a ruck.
Their woes were compounded as Auckland put first points on the board through the boot of Harry Plummer.
Mitch Hunt uncharacteristically missed a regulation penalty to respond but the fly-half made amends with his side’s first clean break leading to him squaring the scores after 37 minutes.
The hosts finally took the lead right on half-time with Hunt’s second penalty, but the half belonged to the defending champions.
Auckland again made a superior start in the second as Plummer evened the honours again at 6-all.
The casualty ward kept growing as did the frustrations for Tasman, losing Will Jordan to a knee injury.
Auckland were then denied a spectacular try thanks to a single blade of grass with the game starting to open up.
An Alex Nankivell brain fade handed Auckland a chance to reclaim the lead with the in-form mid-fielder pinged for a blatant late shot, but Plummer pushed his attempt wide.
Hunt missed his second penalty, but a turning point was around the corner.
Replacement Fetuli Paea exploded through the Auckland defence and was brought down metres short of the chalk.
But a rampaging Quentin Strange was on hand to score the game’s first try as Lansdowne Park erupted in elation.
Paea went from hero to villain in a matter of minutes as the winger spilled the kick-off reception, allowing Auckland to reduce the deficit to four with seven remaining.
The nerves were getting to both teams, Auckland making a simple error in front of its own posts to set the Mako right back on attack.
Another miss by Hunt kept Auckland alive but the game was put to bed thanks to an outstanding run by replacement hooker Hugh Roach.
Skipper David Havili remained composed and linked up with Nankivell who sealed a famous win.
The unbeaten Mako will now meet Wellington in the final at Trafalgar Park on Saturday.
Tasman 18 (Strange, Nankivell tries, Hunt 2 pens, 1 con)
Auckland 9 (Plummer 3 pens)