Martin De Ruyter / Tips
Cook Islands top five-eight Toka Sopoaga broke through Tasman’s defense at TÄhunanui Playing Fields on Wednesday.
Nelson got a taste of international rugby this week as the Cook Islands faced a Tasman Mako XV on TÄhunanui Beach.
The home side won 31-24 in a hotly contested match, played in front of a few hundred spectators on Wednesday afternoon at TÄhunanui Playing Fields.
The match served as a warm-up for Tasman’s upcoming NPC campaign and the Cook Islands Rugby World Cup qualifier later this month.
Originally slated to be played at Trafalgar Park, the venue had to be moved late due to heavy rains in Nelson overnight.
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The Mako XV was mostly made up of developing players, with seven Tasman players on All Black duty as well as some key members of the NPC team taking a rest.
While there have been plenty of new faces, several members of the 2020 Championship winning squad have also taken to the pitch – including captain Quentin MacDonald, Isaac Salmon and Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta.
As the Makos dominated set pieces and held the lion’s share of territory and possession in the first half, they lost 14-12 in the first half.
Mako’s right winger Saul Lewis slipped in and around the defenders in a 40-yard run to open the scoring, while left winger Amanaki Veamatahau pointed soon after to bring the score to 12-0 .
The Cook Islanders hit back with two late first-half tries, including a magnificent counterattacking effort on the stroke of half-time that ended with full-back Te Puhi Rudolph scoring under the posts .
In the second half, the home side scored three more tries to regain the lead, including two for skipper MacDonald.
The match was part of the Cook Islands’ preparations for their 2023 Rugby World Cup qualifying campaign in France.
Tonga, Samoa and the Cook Islands are all in New Zealand this month for the final qualifying round for the Rugby World Cup – after issues with Covid-19 forced the qualifying tournament to be canceled from Oceania to Papua New Guinea in June.
Due to time constraints for qualifying, Cook Islands advanced to the next round as the top-ranked qualifier, knocking out Papua New Guinea, Niue, Solomon Islands and Tahiti.
Over the next two weeks, Tonga and Samoa will face off over who can secure Oceania 1’s place at the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
The loser of that qualifier will then face the Cook Islands on July 24, with the winner of that match qualifying for the Asia / Pacific qualifier – which will be played against Hong Kong, Korea or Malaysia.