Tasman have secured hosting rights for a Mitre 10 Cup semi-final next week after dispatching Otago 26-20 at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.
The win also eliminates any prospect of the reigning champions missing out on a top four spot in what is an extremely tight race as the season enters its final day of the regular season.
The Mako can rest easy ahead of Sunday’s crunch matches between Bay of Plenty and North Harbour, as well as Canterbury and Auckland, as they made an error-prone Otago side pay for their mistakes in front of their home fans.
Crippled by injuries in the backline, it was the hosts who struck first through explosive rookie wing Freedom Vaha’akolo, who scored his seventh try of the season on the back of some swift distribution by his inside teammates.
Aside from a few penalty goals from first-five Josh Ioane, that was about as good as it got for the Dunedinites, who succumbed to Tasman’s powerful attackers, with young wing Leicester Fainga’anuku among those to flourish with ball in hand.
The first to capitalise on his side’s strong running game was midfielder Tim O’Malley, who crashed over after beating numerous defenders about midway through the first half to put Tasman in the lead.
Ioane traded two penalties apiece with his opposite and Highlanders teammate Mitch Hunt on either side of halftime, leaving Tasman with a 16-13 advantage early in the second half.
Hunt slotted another three-pointer before former All Blacks squad member Quinten Strange broke the Otago defence following a long sequence of build-up play by the Mako pack deep inside enemy territory.
That looked to have put Otago out of reach of victory, but a late piece of magic by Jona Nareki was enough to put Kayne Hammington in under the posts with about five minutes to play.
It was too little too late, though, with Tasman able to grind out the remainder of the match to confirm their second-place finish in the Premiership.
It's been three years in the making, but New Zealand-born wing James Lowe has finally taken to the international stage in impressive fashion, scoring a try on debut for Ireland.https://t.co/fD8XDpNl02
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 14, 2020
The result also denies Otago top place in the Championship, although their second-place seeding means they will host either Northland or Taranaki in a semi-final next week.
Who Tasman play in the finals remains to be seen, though, as any one of Waikato, Bay of Plenty, North Harbour or Canterbury stand as potential opponents dependant on the results of Sunday’s matches.
The latter three teams also have the extra motivation of playing to avoid relegation into next year’s Championship.
Their fates will be determined when Bay of Plenty take on North Harbour in Tauranga at 2:05pm on Sunday, which will be followed by Canterbury’s clash with Auckland in Christchurch at 4:35pm.
Tasman 26 (Tries to Tim O’Malley and Quinten Strange; two conversions and four penalties to Mitch Hunt)
Otago 20 (Tries to Freedom Vaha’akolo and Kayne Hammington; two conversions and two penalties to Josh Ioane)
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