Gutsy Tasman pack sets up final chance
Tasman's 29-phase play in the last few minutes set them up for a 41-29 win over Taranaki to claim a place in the Mitre 10 Cup final with Canterbury next Saturday.
Taranaki had been 19-34 behind but pulled back 10 points with 10 minutes left to play but Tasman's character shone through and in a great display of control they worked their 29 phases before Tasman's kingpin of several years first five-eighths Marty Banks scored the try to seal the deal, added the conversion and ended with 21 points and a season haul to date of 149 points.
Having been such an important scoring factor for the side it represents a suitable platform to end his New Zealand-based career before heading overseas.
Taranaki added to the occasion with a gallant fightback but the control the visiting forwards gained, well led by captain and flanker Shane Christie and experienced lock Alex Ainley, proved the difference.
Taranaki made the first break, courtesy of good build-up work in midfield by wing Declan O'Donnell. He set up a ruck after making inroads and the ball was moved by first five-eighths Marty McKenzie to flanker Mitchell Crosswell and wing Latu Vaeno. Vaeno found centre Seta Tamanivalu outside him and with a graphic demonstration of his powerful fend, Tamanivalu scored the opening try.
Tasman kept moving the ball as they probed for openings and after first five-eighths Marty Banks landed a 14th minute penalty goal, they got back on attack and with some outstanding inter-passing and off-loading among the forwards, they got into the 22m area. Halfback Billy Guyton ran from the base of the ruck, double-pumped a pass which found prop Ross Geldenhuys with a full head of steam and he ploughed through for a try.
A TMO ruling a few minutes denied O'Donnell a try when he looked to have knocked the ball on just short of the pain when following through on a Tamanivalu grubber towards the line.
But more pressure from Taranaki with some strength-sapping pick-and-goes at the line resulted in second five-eighths Johnny Fa'auli burrowing under the Tasman defenders to score.
Tasman came back, as they always do, when replacement Alex Nankivell cut through the home defence to take play into Taranaki's 22m area. The forwards kept the momentum going as they moved the ball, and then when it was freed up there was Nankivell perfectly placed to go in under the crossbar.
Misfortune for Taranaki was turned to Tasman's advantage when left wing James Lowe kicked ahead in mid-field only to see the ball go between Taranaki halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi's legs and Lowe was through in a flash to feed fullback Mitchell Hunt with the Taranaki defence shattered and he scored for Tasman to go to the half-time break leading 24-12.
The continuity that Tasman mastered through the middle stages of the game put paid to Taranaki's chances and a key blow was struck in the 46th minute after a 16-phase build-up which saw a chance open up for Guyton and he got over also beneath the posts.
But some clever work at a lineout near halfway saw hooker Rhys Marshall throw to the front of the line where Tahuriorangi took the ball and threw it straight back to Marshall. Tahuriorangi followed up and took a pass from Marshall for an unimpeded run through to the line.
Banks could have made life tougher for Taranaki but he missed penalty goal chances in the 58th and 60th minute and almost predictably Taranaki didn't waste their next chance on attack and from a lineout maul which had looked to have lost its way, Marshall extricated the ball to link on the blindside with Crosswell who in-passed to O'Donnell who scored to reduce the deficit to 24-34 with 16 minutes to go.
Then with nine minutes remaining a move saw Taranaki get fullback Stephen Perofeta into space on the left flank and he took play right up to Tasman's line. The ball was quickly heeled and moved with aplomb through a backline almost made up of forwards for Crosswell to cross wide out.
Scorers: Taranaki 29 (Seta Tamanivalu, Johnny Fa'auli, Te Toirao Tahuriorangi, Declan O'Donnell, Mitchell Crosswell tries; Marty McKenzie 2 con) Tasman 41 (Ross Geldenhuys, Alex Nankivell, Mitchell Hunt, Billy Guyton, Marty Banks tries; Banks 5 con, 2 pen ). HT: 12-24