Tasman 17 Bay of Plenty 3
Everything was on the line for the Bay of Plenty Steamers against Tasman in Nelson last night but the players looked flat in a disappointing first half display which cost them the match.
The 17-3 loss to Tasman is a significant result for all the wrong reasons for the Bay and may well mean relegation into the ITM Championship, unless the Steamers can upset Canterbury in Christchurch after a rare 10-day break between games.
Other results matter, particularly bottom-placed Hawke's Bay against Manawatu tonight, but Tasman was the game the Steamers had to win.
They had first advantage of a useful tail wind in the first half but missed four tackles in the first play of the game at Trafalgar Park to immediately put themselves under pressure in an ominous sign of what was to come.
Tasman enjoyed 12 phases with the ball before the Steamers captain Tanerau Latimer turned the ball over and won a relieving penalty for his team.
No surprises there, as Latimer leads the competition for most turnovers at the tackle-ball situation and must still be a top prospect for the All Blacks northern tour next month. But he was often a lone hand up against a fired-up Tasman forward pack.
Tasman's Tom Marshall missed a sitter to open the scoring after eight minutes but he scored the opening try in the next play, after some more surprisingly weak Steamers tackling with so much at stake in the game.
Some typical Lelia Masaga magic sparked the Steamers first attack and 'Flash' was at it again after another Latimer turnover, setting up Kenny Lynn to make a sharp break. Lynn gave a good pass to halfback Lewis Hancock, who drew the defence and fed fullback Nick McCashin, but he botched a certain try by taking his eye off the ball.
McCashin then gave away a penalty at a ruck after Tasman first-five Hayden Cripps made easy yards through the Steamers' defence. Marshall banged over the goal to put the Makos up 10-0 midway through the half.
The Steamers looked strangely subdued, and had missed 10 tackles, before McCashin raised the flags with a penalty to close the gap to a converted try. But the margin was doubled again minutes later when three one-on-one tackles were missed by the Steamers on winger Robbie Malneek and hooker Quentin MacDonald scored.
Down 17-3 the Steamers were in trouble and needed a bit of class to get back into the game. It came from first-five Chris Noakes with a dart through the inside defensive channel but with acres of space in front of him the unmarked MacDonald spilled the ball.
Something special was needed in the second half if the Steamers were to salvage their season and at the very least a far more intense defensive effort was demanded after the shabby first 40 minutes.
The Bay's creaking scrum conceded a penalty in the opening minute of the second stanza but Marshall missed the points, before the Steamers showed their core strength with a patient 15-phase build-up marshalled by replacement halfback Jamie Nutbrown on his return from injury.
But again as the momentum was building an unforced error, which has plagued the Steamers all season, stopped the attack cold.
More possession followed as the Steamers began to dominate in a solid 15-minute period camped inside the Tasman quarter. Multiple raids on their line were defended by the resilient Makos, with as much good luck as good skill, but there was no doubt about their resolve.
The Steamers did most things right but could not get over the line, so after all that energy spent for no reward it was inevitable the Steamers would not be able to sustain the intensity.
And so the game ended with a scoreless second half and a bitter loss for coach Kevin Schuler and the leadership group.
The good news is they have a long break before they take on the Cantabs a week Sunday, who may look to rest some players before the semifinals, but nothing less than a huge turn around from this effort will do if the Steamers are to test the defending champions.
Tasman 17 (Tom Marshall, Quentin MacDonald tries; Marshall 2 con, pen)
Bay of Plenty 3 (Nick McCashin pen)