As halfback Finlay Christie ran out the clock to see Tasman collect their second straight Mitre 10 Cup Premiership title, the emotion of the season was apparent on both sides.
The Mako players chased after their halfback with hands raised before forming a red and navy dogpile; the Aucklanders could do nothing but stand with heads down and hands on knees.
The two played a brutal encounter at Eden Park, and the 13-12 scoreline in favour of the Mako was equally brutal on the home team — who had opened the gates to fans, free of charge, to thank them for the support in this season that earlier in the year many expected would never happen.
“I know we couldn’t do it, so apologies,” Auckland captain Angus Ta’avao said addressing the crowd after the game.
“Two yellow cards, some easy outs against a good side like Tasman — against any side really — is going to cost you, so we’re disappointed that it’s come to this end.
“I just felt like we didn’t get many opportunities to play in the right parts of the field and that was down to our discipline. But you look at the heart and some of the shots that were being put in on both sides, it was just one of those games.”
There was just one try scored in the match — through Tasman hooker Quentin MacDonald on the stroke of halftime, rumbling over from a lineout drive following a penalty that saw Ta’avao sent to the sin bin.
In a match where both sides were struggling to assert their dominance and give their attacking weapons room to move, any opportunity for points became golden, and Tasman captain David Havili didn’t let his side down from the kicking tee with a conversion and two penalty goals to his name.
As Havili explained after the match, for Tasman, being able to claim their second title in as many years said plenty about the state of the union.
Congratulations @TasmanMako! ???
“We’ve had to dig deep,” Havili said. “We lost a lot of players to injury, a lot of players to higher honours, and we told ourselves at the start of the year we’d have to go deep into our squad. We’ve done that this year and it’s great because we’re building a lot of depth for the future.”
Given the uncertainty of the season earlier in the year, there was plenty of emotion attached to it for every team, and with the All Blacks playing during the same period, it allowed opportunities for the depth in their squad to shine.
No player did so more than winger Leicester Fainga’anuku, who was the side’s best attacking option throughout the Premiership campaign.
Fainga’anuku expressed his pride in the team.
“The Auckland side, man, the definitely gave us what we expected. It was a hard 80 and my body’s feeling it,” he said.
“With the players we have, and the responsibility they took on board every week throughout the season to be able to recover and get their body 100 per cent for the following week, it’s been massive. I can’t thank them enough and obviously it showed in the result out here. Happy days.”
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now