Moana Pasifika coach Aaron Mauger says there is much more to come from his side after they put down a marker in their first Super Rugby game on Friday.
Moana Pasifika were aggressive and well organised, repeatedly smashing the Crusaders’ ball carriers in a 33-12 loss as Pasifika rugby’s 26-year wait to play in Super Rugby finally ended.
That approach was not lost on Crusaders coach Scott Robertson, who told Stuff afterwards that his “clunky” side did not cope well with the physical approach of Super Rugby debutants.
For Mauger, however, the performance in Dunedin was just the start.
“The work ethic was really fuelled by what this team stands for,” Mauger said. “It’s really about serving our people, serving our ancestry, those who have gone before us, and those we want to inspire and follow us.
“You could see that in the repetition. Making tackles, big shots, getting up, play after play against the juggernaut which is the Crusaders.
“We managed to withstand so much of that pressure. That fuel of passion, of family, is something that was evident, and something we’re really proud of.
“Now it’s about sharpening our execution up, so we can turn that around. In the second half we had some opportunities to put the Crusaders under pressure, and they started to feel it as well.
“First game, not too bad. I know we’ll be sharper next week, and we’ll keep getting better.”
Robertson was simply relieved to pocket a late bonus point to take back to Christchurch after a performance that had plenty of uncharacteristic errors.
A late maul try to Codie Taylor – his second of the night – gave the Crusaders five competition points, but they were unconvincing against a Moana Pasifika side that started with plenty of fire, and maintained that rage for longer that Robertson was expecting.
“When we didn’t execute early the defence defended with courage and ferocity,” Robertson said.
“We just couldn’t get over that line and execution was poor, we kept them in it.
“We made them make the tackles we wanted to and then bang, they scored a try and lifted again.
“With the amount of changes we made, we were clunky. It’s as simple as that. We were clunky. I’m really stoked for them [Moana Pasifika], really proud. I’m also relieved to get a bonus point.”
Few would have predicted that before the game, especially after Moana Pasifika’s challenging buildup to the season, when Covid-19 ravaged the camp.
Playmaker Christian Leali’ifano told Stuff afterwards that he had spent 14 days in isolation in Queenstown, but Moana Pasifika did not fall away in the last quarter as might have been expected.
“They’re well coached, and they’ve got a good blend in their squad,” Robertson said.
“We thought the last 20 we might have run over them. I think they had made 116 or 120 tackles by that time and teams that do that normally they are going to go.
“And for them being in their rooms for a long period of time and not having the cohesion and training under their belt…it was an immense effort.”
When Moana Pasifika got the ball, they also showed they had some weapons in attack. Hawke’s Bay pair Lincoln McClutchie and Danny Toala looked sharp at No 10 and No 12 – “triple threat” players who can run, kick or pass.
“I thought both Danny and Lincoln were outstanding tonight,” Mauger said. “I thought [halfback] Ere [Enari] served those guys really well too, with some good service.
“Obviously we had to defend for long parts, but I think Danny and Lincoln showed what they are capable of.”