The Bay of Plenty Steamers have capped off their Mitre 10 Cup preparations with a narrow 16-14 loss to Auckland in the Katikati sunshine on Friday afternoon.
Getting a result in preseason matches like this is not the primary goal of the exercise but the Steamers – playing under their Wasps guise - may still be a little disappointed they just failed to hold on for a morale-boosting victory over their more highly-rated Premiership level opponents, who needed a penalty in the dying moments to win.
Coach Clayton McMillan will have been pleased to see his squad put under a serious examination from the Aucklanders, and while the game showed up several areas to work on for his team a number of players can be pleased with their afternoon's work.
One of those is elusive left wing Matt Garland who set up the first of the Bay's two tries and scored the second. Canadian international Tyler Ardron can also be pleased with his effort in leading the pack from the front.
The Bay boys took some time to work their way into the match after conceding an early try, but as the first half wore on they gained a measure of control. The reward came with five minutes of the half remaining as Garland broke up field and set up an opportunity for Kaleb Trask to get over the line. The Rotorua-born Baby Black converted his own try to give his team a 7-5 lead at the break.
A string of penalties prevented them generating momentum in the second, and will be one of the areas the Steamers coaching staff will be keen to work on during the week. A surprisingly conservative Auckland side were reluctant to capitalise on the resulting possession and territory advantage though, and could only add a penalty from first five Daniel Kirkpatrick to take an 8-7 lead.
Almost immediately the Steamers found themselves in an attacking position for the first time in the half, and showed good cohesion in the forwards and more incision through the backline than Auckland could manage as Garland broke the line to score.
The conversion from Trask took them out to 14-8 entering the final quarter, but they got no chance to consolidate their lead as a defensive lapse directly from the kickoff allowed the visitors in for their second try.
Kirkpatrick's conversion attempt from the corner missed but the visitors were back within one point, and a stalemate followed until Auckland were handed a final penalty attempt in the dying moments. This time Kirkpatrick made no mistake.
The Steamers will now be spending a fair proportion of the next seven days on the training paddock before their Mitre 10 Cup season opener against Taranaki in Rotorua next Saturday night.