Tasman determined to create history
September 3, 2013
Kieron Fonotia and his Tasman team-mates are still searching for their first win over Otago © Getty Images
Chasing history has become Tasman's motive in 2013 and that continues on Friday with a clash against a side that left them pondering what might have been in the 2012 Championship semi-finals.
Holding a 13-point lead with a quarter of the 2012 ITM Cup Championship semi-final to go against Otago, Tasman coach Kieran Keane knew his side was in a dominant position. It was set to be a coup for the union- their first ITM Cup win over Otago and their first Championship final.
The rugby gods, however, wrote a different script. An avalanche of points in the final 19 minutes of the match saw Otago snatch a spot in the 2012 Championship final with a come-from-behind 41-34 thriller in Dunedin. Keane was very complimentary towards his opponents, who Tasman will play for the first time since that defeat.
"Without putting too fine a point on it we were disappointed to lose down south. We had a 13-point advantage in the semi and they came back really well. They way they came back made them deserved finalists," said Keane. "[But] we had them on the ropes. I think we've learned a few lessons from it and we've got a bit better."
It's a bold statement from Keane, one that signals how far the outfit has come from their first season as a combined Nelson Bays-Marlborough union in 2006. They won just two of nine matches in the 2006 Air New Zealand Cup.
Their future in the competition looked bleak following news in 2008 Tasman and Northland would be relegated only for the national rugby union to reverse their decision at the end of the season. Their survival secured, Tasman have now gone in search of more headline-grabbing milestones. All of a sudden, it's history - not competitiveness - that is spurring the team on.
"We'd like to create a little bit of history if that's possible," Keane said. "We're definitely aware of it in the short time we've been a union. They're a staunch union that has had its up and downs like we have - there'll be a fair of banter."
Keane knows his opponents are wounded. He is expecting Tasman to face a "backlash" from Otago's disappointing defeat on Sunday. He is expectant, but not concerned.
"It's going to be a great opportunity for our boys to step up and have a real crack at them," he said. "As to where [Otago] will be in their heads, I'm not sure. [It's] pretty tough to get up for the Ranfurly Shield and defend it. They've surprised everyone in the past, Otago. Mr [Tony] Brown's boys will probably be the same threat as usual."
One of the dominant players in the semi-final defeat was Otago fly-half Glenn Dickson. He kicked three conversions and five penalties to get his side out of a rut and over the line. While he won't be there, his successor - Hayden Parker - is no mug with the tee. His disappointing dropped goal attempt aside, Parker has been one of the standout players in the ITM Cup to date and drew praise from the Tasman corner.
"He's a pretty influential player for Otago for the way they play and the style they play. He has a strong kicking game; both he and [halfback Fumiaki] Tanaka are fairly influential in that regard. He's a bit of a sharp shooter and they play a fairly territory-oriented game. I'm sure he's a big part of their game."
If Keane is looking for any sort of relief, he has found it in his side that, for the most part, is the same one that fell last year. That memory will linger in a number of players, one they will be looking to erase come Sunday.
The spoils of victory mightn't be as glorious as could've been in last year's semi-final, but there's still history to play for. Any history is precious - even for an eight-year-old union.
England broke their losing streak, but this was not them clawing their way back among the best, writes Tom Hamilton
Wales were just 13 minutes from a famous victory, but the lessons to be learned in defeat are almost exactly the same as those from previous near-misses, writes Huw Richards
Ahead of England's clash with Samoa, Scrum Sevens takes a wander down memory lane and celebrates seven examples of Pacific Islands magic
England must find a way to improve their game by tiny margins and they will get there, writes Phil Vickery