Jordan Olsen summed up the game succinctly in his post-match interview: "The Mako are a very strong team and we probably let them have most of the opportunities."
The Northland Taniwha skipper held his head high despite the side's 54-21 pummelling by their Tasman rivalsin the second round of the Mitre 10 Cup in Blenheim on Friday evening.It was always going to be a very tough challenge for the Taniwha. Playing the Mako on their home patch is the metaphoric Gestapo interrogation.
Yet Northland didn't throw in the towel even when they were being hopelessly outclassed in the second half.
It is important to acknowledge the courage they showed, to put Tasman's performance into context. Few could deny that Northland's tenacious defence stemmed the opposition's attack, restricting the score to a respectable 19-7 at the breather.
Tasman centre Fetuli Paea made the mistake of coming into contact perhaps a fraction too high with his rib cage exposed when he was stopped with the impact of a mid-size car by Tamati Tua and Kara Pryor under the sticks.
What will irk Northland the most is their inability to exert prolonged pressure the way they did in the first spell when Tasman had the crowbar out and were trying to leverage the many cracks they felt they could see, but the Taniwha didn't break for the most part.
You would need to coin new collective nouns to describe the way Tasman played in the second half, when they threw a profusion of passes, their hands moving so fast you gasped to watch it, flicking the ball one way and another till it looked like a pinball ricocheting off the flippers.
There's not much difference between them, the Crusaders and the All Blacks in the way they suffocate the best of teams with blistering pace, sleight of hand, tactical brilliance and general all-round skills from 1 to 15.
Having monsters like Shannon Frizell - who carried the ball hard and didn't see Taniwha defenders hanging off him as a good reason to stop running, try-scoring machine Sevu Reece who dotted down twice on the fly, and Mitch Hunt who kicked like there was no tomorrow, is always a bonus.
You could say they are slaves to their DNA— they can't resist the temptation to do what comes so naturally and attack with ball in hand.
Tasman barely missed a tackle. And when they did, their scrambling was so effective that whatever half-chance had opened disappeared just as quickly.
In the end, it boiled down to the hosts' pace and panache against Northland's brutal brawn, which netted the Taniwha three tries but not a fourth to bag a bonus point.
"We'll work on the basics ... catch, pass, carry, holding on to the ball, building those
phases," Olsen said, referring to his team's focus during preparation this week for the next match against Kieran Read's Counties Manukau next Sunday. For all the ingenuity and players with the x-factor, Tasman reminded themselves as much as everybody else that they can also excel at pass, catch, run— the basics Olsen referred to.
Nearly all the great victories throughout the ages have been built on the basics and not much more. Why get drawn into an arm-wrestle when they have so many natural athletes who are lethal when they can roam wide?
By the 30th minute, Tasman had spent four minutes and 22 seconds in the opposition 22 compared with Northland's three seconds.
Yet, the visitors got a much-needed boost heading into the break with a try to Kara Pryor following a string of penalty advantage rulings against the hosts.
The try came from a brilliant offload from Tamati Tua to Scott Gregory, who was tackled a metre from the tryline. Quick recycled ball saw Pryor dive low over Mako lock Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta.
Sadly for Tua— one of the standout players— his best passage of play turned out to be his last after he suffered a dislocated shoulder following Pryor's try and was replaced by Blake Hohaia.
Tua joins Hawkins, Jack Goodhue, Aorangi Stokes, Saimoni Uluinakauvadra, Ross Wright, Kane Jacobson, Rob Rush, and Kalolo Tuiloma in the casualty list.
The scrum is another area Northland will have to improve as it wasn't much of a contest at all, with Isi Tu'ungafasi, Andrew Makalio and Tyrel Lomax being the set-piece phenomena for the Mako.