Tasman gear up for big day

Getty Images     24 Oct 2013     Getty Images

The Tasman side which has carried all before it through the ITM Cup this year is in with a big chance of breaking into the Premier league of the domestic game.

First they have to get over Hawke's Bay in Friday's final at Trafalgar Park in Nelson, but if they can do that it will be the greatest day in the code in the region.

It hasn't been an easy time for the union since it first came on the scene in 2006 as a combination of the Nelson and Marlborough Unions. There were disputes that almost saw the breaking up of the amalgamation while there were also issues when the New Zealand Rugby Union were looking to downsize the provincial championship.

However, the players have done the job and with the perseverance and guidance of coaches Kieran Keane and Leon MacDonald they have gone from strength to strength.

They have always played an engaging style of rugby and this year the familiarity with that style, and the exceptional skill levels of a more experienced group, has resulted in the side reaching the final.

Names like: Tom Marshall, Robbie Malneek, James Lowe, Liam Squire, Shane Christie, Joe Wheeler, Tim Perry, Bryce Heem, Marty Banks and Mitchell Scott have carried the Makos brand up and down the country on a superb run of success.

Not surprisingly, interest in Nelson is huge for the final with the commercial centre of town, just a well-placed Marty Banks penalty goal from Trafalgar Park, bedecked in Tasman colours ahead of the challenge from Hawke's Bay.

New chief executive Tony Lewis hasn't chosen a bad week to start in his new job.

Lewis said the bottom line in the success was down to the work that Keane and MacDonald had done as coaches while his predecessors in the administrative role, Peter Barr and Andrew Flexman, had put the dollars in place when it came to recruitment and organisation.

The qualities the two coaches brought to the side were complementary, Lewis said.

"Kieran has not forgotten the traditional ethos of the game and he understands what rugby is about in communities like Nelson and Blenheim. He brought Leon through the grades in Marlborough as a player and he has been able to show the squad that rugby is more than just a game.

"Leon is something special. He is a very quiet man, very analytical. He looks at the players differently to Kieran and he understands the Y Generation, which is handy.

"The key to our team environment is the coaches. The team are very close and they are very well managed," Lewis said.

Success in making the Premier section of the ITM Cup was important for several reasons.

Lewis said it was important to have two South Island teams in the top section of the competition.

But it was also important for the Crusaders in the Super Rugby set-up. And success would help to strengthen the bond between Nelson and Marlborough.

There was a lot of pressure on for sporting space in both Nelson and Blenheim and having a team in the highest level of the ITM Cup would help rugby's cause.

Lewis said the Crusaders connection could not be under-stated. Tasman wanted to be seen as a second home for the Crusaders and as a contributor to the playing personnel, rather than having their players scattered throughout the other franchises.

The impact the playing success of the side has had could be seen in the Maori All Blacks selection which saw Tasman captain Shane Christie, lock Joe Wheeler and No.8 Liam Squire all chosen to tour. It was only a shame Quentin MacDonald was missing from the side, Lewis said.

He didn't want to mention individual players who had contributed to the side's success but he did say there was no doubt everyone was talking about first five-eighths Marty Banks and his phenomenal run of scoring.

Lewis said the interest in the final was reflected in ticket sales and it was shaping as a crowd of at least 6000 for the game, but it could get as high as 10,000 if the weather was good.