Sometimes it’s not just the winning that matters, but how the game is played.
Bay of Plenty rugby has traditionally been all about tough, uncompromising but small forward packs with dazzling backlines working off about 30 per cent possession.
Over the decades since Bay of Plenty won the National Championship in 1976 not much joy has come the way of the loyal fans, apart from a Ranfurly Shield win in 2004 and close calls on dazzling nights against touring teams like the British and Irish Lions in 2005.
But the 2019 season is turning out to be something special.
From nine games played, the Steamers have won seven. It should be eight but for a missed simple conversion by Dan Hollinshead against Wellington at Rotorua International Stadium.
This Saturday in Tauranga the Steamers play Hawke’s Bay in a top-of-the-table clash in the Mitre 10 Cup Championship that will have a major bearing when home semi-finals are decided.
Rugby fans throughout New Zealand are being entertained by the brilliant counter-attacking flair of the 2019 Steamers.
The brilliant unpredictable back play that epitomised the best teams of the past is back with a vengeance.
Greats of Bay teams like winger Graeme Moore, fullback Greg Rowlands and centre Eddie Stokes would have fitted in well with this current crop of players.
In Sunday’s scintillating 46-22 win over Northland in Whangarei Chase Tiatia and Emoni Narawa were in a class of their own, cutting merry capers through the Taniwha.
Not far behind those two was one of Rotorua’s favourite sons in first-five Kaleb Trask.
After a lengthy break to get a troublesome leg injury right he was at his imperious best on Sunday in easily his best game for the Steamers.
When I first saw him play for Rotorua Boys’ High First XV I thought he was a future All Black and nothing since has changed my view on that.
More time running the backline and sharpening up his goalkicking will help him make the next step to Super Rugby and onwards.
It was interesting that against Northland he started at first-five and Cole Forbes at fullback.
Both the NZ Under-20 reps played against each other in interchangeable positions at school – Kaleb at fullback for Rotorua Boys’ and Cole at first-five for Tauranga Boys’ College.
One of the many joys to be found in the Mitre 10 Cup is watching First XV stars make the transition to the next level. Cole’s halfback at Tauranga Boys’ Leroy Carter played well as a substitute against Northland.
It was also good to see Tevita Mafileo back in action on Sunday. The burly prop played in the same NZ Under-20 side as Kaleb but has been out with injury issues for most of the season. He is another special talent.
Not to be outdone by the Steamers were the Bay of Plenty Volcanix women who defeated Waikato 26-21 in Hamilton on Saturday live on SKY Sport.
It was their first win of this Farah Palmer Cup season. It means both the men’s and women’s Chiefs Country Cups are safely in Bay of Plenty’s possession until next season.
The key moment in the game came from the kick-off to start the second half. Waikato secured the ball and tried a sweeping backline movement that broke down with a poor pass that flying Volcanix winger Natalie Walford picked up to race 40 metres to score.
The conversion put the Volcanix out to a handy 19-8 lead they never looked like relinquishing for the rest of the match.
* Information on this weekend’s matches: www.boprugby.co.nz
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