The surprise package of 2014, Tasman look well equipped to be confident they can perform at the higher level now they have been promoted.
Having earned promotion to the Premiership, Tasman, says BRENT EDWARDS, look well equipped to stay there.
Vision Statement We’ve created our own momentum and we want to keep that going. The past few years have been great for rugby in the region. We don’t see playing in the Premiership as a biggie. Our aim is to cement our place as a credible option in New Zealand rugby. Head coach Kieran Keane
The Big Picture
It’s all systems go as Tasman, once an outpost of New Zealand rugby, make their debut in the Premiership. It has been a remarkable rise for Tasman, an amalgamation of Nelson Bays and Marlborough, which not so long ago was the New Zealand rugby equivalent of Victoria in Australia.
Tasman were last in the Championship in 2011, beaten semifinalists in 2012 and last year beat Hawke’s Bay 26- 25 in the final to gain promotion. They won 10 of 12 games, scored 408 points to 239 and 44 tries to 24. Season sensation Marty Banks scored 170 points and Liam Squire scored seven tries.
They won three of four matches against Premiership teams - 40- 20 over Counties- Manukau, 64- 28 against Waikato and 27- 20 over Taranaki. And they beat every team ( Waikato, Otago, Hawke’s Bay and Counties) which held the shield last year. They scored more than 40 points in five of their matches.
Coach Kieran Keane has his hands on the tiller for the fifth consecutive season and is again assisted by former All Black Leon MacDonald while Martyn Vercoe takes over from the popular and longserving Jenelle Strickland as team manager. Keane is especially pleased to have retained almost all his key players from last year, which include 10 who played in this season’s Super 15.
Lock Joe Wheeler and flanker and captain Shane Christie had fine seasons for the Highlanders, Tom Marshall, James Lowe, Squire and Tevita Koloamatangi played for the Chiefs, Tim Perry and Kieran Fonotia for the Crusaders while Banks and Billy Guyton were part of the Hurricanes.
And there is vast experience among other returning players Robbie Malneek, Mitchell Scott, Tevita Cavubati, Mike Wells, Alex Ainley and Vernon Fredericks.
Hooker Quentin MacDonald has been overseas after missing a Super 15 contract but has returned while wing Bryce Heem has been with the New Zealand sevens squad. There is continuity spread through the squad. Malneek is Tasman’s mostcapped player ( 83 games) while Wheeler has logged 58, MacDonald 56, Ainley 52 and Christie 42.
“We have had our downs as well as ups since the amalgamation but we’ve progressed each season and I’m really pleased with the squad we’ve been able to put together for this season,” Keane said.
Rising St ar
No 8 or blindside flanker Peter Samu. A natural athlete with the raw material to develop into a quality loose forward. Has a strong mental attitude and should learn much from the likes of Squire, Christie and Koloamatangi. Born in Melbourne and was a member of the Waratahs wider training squad while based in Sydney. “He’s improving every day,” says Keane.
Prop Ross Geldenhuys played Super rugby as a tighthead prop for South African franchises the Lions and Kings. Has settled in well to the Tasman environment and should add steel to the frontrow.
Samu, Geldenhuys and former Hawke’s Bay hooker Jesse Macdonald are the newly- contracted players from last year but the feature of the squad is that 19 return from last season’s successful campaign. Halfback Mark Swanepoel has returned to Australia and other absentees from last year are tighthead prop and Tongan international Sila Puafisi, who has linked up with English club Gloucester, former Samoan No 8 George Stowers, English midfielder Andy Symons, who has returned to the Worcester club while flanker Gary Redmond is playing in Ashburton.
HIGH IMPACT Liam Squire will have learned plenty after his season with the Chiefs.