Cook Islands face Mako in Rugby World Cup qualifying warm-up

Cook Islands top five-eight Toka Sopoaga beat Tasman's defense at Tāhunanui Playing Fields on Wednesday.

Martin De Ruyter / Tips

Cook Islands top five-eight Toka Sopoaga beat Tasman’s defense at Tāhunanui Playing Fields on Wednesday.

Nelson got a taste of international rugby this week as the Cook Islands faced a Tasman Mako XV on Tāhunanui Beach.

The home side won 31-24 in a hotly contested match, played in front of a few hundred spectators on Wednesday afternoon at Tāhunanui 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 NPC team members resting.

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 entered the first half with 14-12.

Mako’s right winger Saul Lewis slipped in and around the defenders on a 40-yard run to open the scoring, while left winger Amanaki Veamatahau pointed soon after to bring the score to 12-0 .

Tasman right winger Saul Lewis falls at the end of his run to score for Tasman Mako XV.

Martin De Ruyter / Tips

Tasman right winger Saul Lewis falls at the end of his run to score for Tasman Mako XV.

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 team scored three more tries to regain the advantage, 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.

Tasman lock Antonio Shalfoon seeks a relief in the first half of the match at Tāhunanui.  Mako recovered from a 14-12 deficit at the break to win 31-24.

Martin De Ruyter / Tips

Tasman lock Antonio Shalfoon seeks a relief in the first half of the match at Tāhunanui. Mako recovered from a 14-12 deficit at the break to win 31-24.

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 play-off 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.


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