Tasman end Wellington’s unbeaten run
‘‘To sneak home with a win was fantastic.’’
Mitch Hunt again displayed his match-winning talents, steering the Tasman Makos to an exciting 37-35 Mitre 10 Cup win over previously-unbeaten Wellington at Lansdowne Park in Blenheim on Sunday.
Tasman appeared in serious danger of slumping to their second defeat against a championship team when Wellington led 28-13 shortly after halftime. But in a clutch finish, a converted Hunt try with just nine minutes remaining provided the late impetus for a thrilling home side win.
A late try to Wellington winger Losi Filipo with just minutes remaining heightened the tension, although Tasman held on.
Wellington had entered Sunday’s contest averaging 38 points a game from wins over Manawatu, Taranaki, Bay of Plenty and Hawke’s Bay. But, despite outscoring Tasman five tries to four, it was the Makos’ time to celebrate as they kept their playoff hopes alive.
Wellington suffered an early loss when skipper and No 8 Brad Shields departed with a leg injury after just nine minutes. But they stunned Tasman with two early length-of-the-field tries, prop Alex Fidow scoring the first following a turnover on Wellington’s line and fullback Ben Lam later backing up a superb break from centre Wes Goosen for a handy 14-6 lead.
Wellington looked dangerous given width, their excellent support play and offloading often having Tasman scrambling in defence.
But the difference between the two teams in the first half was finishing, Wellington’s execution was more clinical.
Also significant was the impact of Wellington’s tight five on attack, with all their big men making massive contributions to the team’s continuity and strike power.
Tasman’s persistence finally paid off though when loosehead prop Tim Perry crashed over to reduce Wellington’s lead to 14-13. However, Wellington struck again just before the break when big lock Sam Lousi scored after an attacking lineout for a 21-13 halftime lead.
It took Wellington just six minutes after the restart to score their bonus try when lock James Blackwell ambled across.
Tasman worked hard to stay in touch, fullback Will Jordan running off a Hunt offload for their second try. And when winger James Lowe latched on to a pinpoint Alex Nankivell grubber kick midway through the half, Tasman were suddenly back in touch at 28-27.
A penalty, followed by Hunt’s late try saw the home team surge ahead 37-28, meaning not even Filipo’s try with just minutes remaining was enough to deny Tasman a critical win.
Tasman’s defence and composure improved markedly throughout the second half as Wellington, for once, failed to deliver.
Makos head coach Leon MacDonald was delighted to grab five points. ‘‘[Wellington] were a confident team after four wins, with plenty of ball players on a dry track ... we defended well for long periods, then we just turned off for half a second and they were off and a try was scored.
‘‘A lot of [the problem] was around personal tackling, so it was a lot better effort in the second half. To sneak home with a win was fantastic.’’
Tasman’s Mitch Hunt crosses for the match-winning try. Tasman coach Leon MacDonald