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'15, 20-point wins' on the cards for Moana Pasifika with a few small fixes

By Tom Vinicombe
(Photo by Andrew Cornaga/Photosport)

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Moana Pasifika head coach Aaron Mauger believes that if his side can fix a few small errors, the wins will start piling up for the new Super Rugby franchise.

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Despite going ahead 17-0 early in their match with the Waratahs, Moana Pasifika fell to their 10th loss of the season on Saturday night, eventually succumbing 20-26 to the New South Welshmen.

Mauger’s side arguably looked the better team throughout the contest, however, and came close to scoring what could have been a decisive try on multiple occasions throughout the final quarter of the match.

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It’s for that reason Mauger believes his team just need to right a few small issues in order to start banking some significant competition points, having now lost their past two matches to Australian opposition by six or fewer points.

“It was another winnable game,” Mauger said after the match. “I thought we played the better footy right across the park, just a couple of soft moments and a bit of set-piece execution was the difference.

 

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“The pleasing thing for us is we’re putting ourselves in a position to win these games and can sort of take a lot of belief. But I know the boys are pretty gutted.”

The set-piece – and in particular the scrum – has been a major weakness for Moana Pasifika this year, with penalties regularly going the way of their opposition, regardless of the personnel on the field. Their general discipline, however, has increased ten-fold in recent weeks, suggesting that everything is fixable.

If Moana Pasifika can right the scrum and stop making unforced errors, they’ll certainly stop letting off the pressure on their opposition when they have them under the pump – as they did on various occasions against the Waratahs at Mt Smart Stadium.

“I think a bit more patience (was needed against the Waratahs),” said Mauger. “We’re getting over the line, there’s a couple of really close calls out there and just a couple of sloppy moments from us. Tighten up that and [be] a bit more patient with the ball – we built some really really good pressure. Every time we held onto the ball we got reward, either through penalties or points. Just more of that.

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“It’s just little details – score the try, long place (of the ball after a tackle), all those things that allow us to build momentum. When we do those things well, we’re probably the best-looking team in the competition. It’s exciting footy as well.

“We’re not far off. We’re disappointed because we didn’t win but I think it won’t be long before we turn those [games] into 15, 20-point wins.”

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Mauger added that Moana Pasifika had already made some big steps up this season, having only had precious little time together as a unit before the season kicked off in mid-February, and that now the team were very much focussing on winning matches, as opposed to simply trying to be competitive and learning from their defeats.

“We set our team up to win games of rugby every week,” he said. “At the start (of the season), we were really focussed on how much we could grow through the year but we’re at a position now where we’re setting out to win these games. There was two winnable games the last couple of weeks.

“We’re probably ahead of where we should be, really, if you look at the lead-in to our season, if you look at a lot of the challenges we’ve had, I think we’re well ahead of where some would expect us to be. If you go back to January 5th, we hadn’t even assembled as a team before, you could probably think we might go none from 14 this year but we’ve obviously got a result once and we’ve been knocking on the door for another five or six. So the fact that we’re there, we can take a lot of belief forward.

“I love the way we’re playing. I keep saying to the boys, play with coverage, be prepared to do something different. We don’t want to play like everybody else and that’s the most pleasing thing for me, that our boys are backing themselves. It hasn’t always come off. You’ve got to be disciplined, make good decisions, but I think we’re only going to get better. This is just the start for this team and it’s exciting.”

Moana Pasifika have four more games to play this season before the playoffs and will take on fellow competition newbies the Fijian Drua in Sydney next weekend.

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