Many observers around the Jock Hobbs Memorial national under 19 tournament in Taupo this week were not the least surprised to see Bay of Plenty’s rampaging rookies make today’s final against Canterbury, and have installed them as favourites for the title.
The team won their way through to the premiership division Graham Mourie Cup decider with a 90-0 thrashing of Hawkes Bay in the quarterfinal, and then an equally impressive 64-12 semifinal demolition of North Harbour.
A win in today’s final would hand the union its first under 19 national title.
One of those observers who’ve been enormously impressed with their performance in the tournament is Bay of Plenty Steamers coach Clayton McMillan. He was on hand to watch both their matches at Taupo’s Owen Delany Park.
“They’ve been amazing. They’re playing a great brand of rugby, their confidence is high, they have talent and size and speed and I think they have a great opportunity to give Canterbury a huge fright.
“And I’m not too sure it’ll be a fright because when I was down there they certainly had tongues wagging around their dominance and the way they play the game.
“If they get their fair share of ball then they’ll give it a bloody good shake I would think.”
Giving Clayton most satisfaction is the fact that they’re an unheralded bunch of players who have come together to forge a real team.
“There wouldn’t be any in there that I would consider a rock star, no blokes in there that were high on the New Zealand Rugby Union radar at secondary school, just bloody good players that have been waiting for an opportunity for somebody to make a bit of a time investment in them and get them into a strong high performance programme.
“They’ve really embraced it and done well, and they play like they’ve got a bit of a chip on their shoulder which is not a bad thing.
“They’ve been really impressive to watch.
“The one thing that they’ve got is that crucial ingredient of gas, right across their whole backline, and a forward pack that’s prepared to roll up their sleeves and work hard. So provided they give those backs their fair share of ball then they can be pretty electric.”
Head coach Mike Rogers has named a largely unchanged matchday 23 from the side which blew North Harbour away.
Kaipo Brown will once again captain the side from the blindside flank, while Tauranga Sports’ Leroy Carter starts at halfback, Cole Forbes in the crucial number 10 jersey, and free-scoring Te Puke midfielder Lalomilo Lalomilo at 12.
New Zealand under 20 rep Kaleb Trask, who has impressed for the Steamers this year, will once again take his place at fullback.
Bay of Plenty Under 19s to take on Canterbury in today’s final, kicking off at 5pm at Taupo’s Owen Delany Park and live on Sky Sport 4:
1. Mafi Fifita, 2. Miracle Lolofie, 3. Jonas Pomare, 4. Semisi Paea, 5. Iosefa Maloney, 6. Kaipo Brown (c), 7. Kohan Herbert, 8. Gordie Lloyd, 9. Leroy Carter, 10. Cole Forbes, 11. Jayjay Suemai, 12. Lalomilo Lalomilo, 13. Dennon Robinson, 14. Emoni Narawa, 15. Kaleb Trask
16. Dylan Williams, 17. Tevita Sole, 18. Peter Seeling, 19. Etonia Waqa, 20. Toni Toia, 21. Keita Yamamoto, 22. Bartje Wierenga, 23. Taniela Filimone