Bay of Plenty Steamers take on their biggest test of the season when they face last year’s Mitre 10 Cup Premiership winners, Auckland, at Eden Park on Saturday.
Steamers head coach, Clayton McMillan, has named a strong 23-man squad for the game.
Retaining the same front row of Aidan Ross, Nathan Harris and Jeff Thwaites, that annihilated Otago in Round One of the Mitre 10 Cup.
It’s no fluke that the Steamers pack have found another gear this season. Bay supporters were left salivating at the weekend at the sight of a Waikato pack going backwards.
McMillan is putting the success at scrum time down to some key factors.
“It’s the consistency of the team we are putting out there. Cohesion is critical, and with a little bit of depth and competition for spaces, you create a competitive environment where players need to have consistent performances to maintain their position.
"The front row is particularly blessed with experience and quality, so there are difficult conversations to be had on a weekly basis when selecting the team.”
The coach doesn’t have to look too hard for those experienced players, to help combat a juggernaut Auckland pack.
Not just players like Ross, Harris and Thwaites who have come up against Auckland many times in the Bay jersey. But players who were once in the Auckland side, and now bleed blue and gold.
Guys like Kurt Eklund, who could have stayed in Auckland but came home to nurse his terminally ill mother, and Tom McHugh who proudly calls himself a Whaka boy, or even Richard Judd who has shown real grit at halfback for the Steamers this season.
“The general public understand why a player like Kurt’s motivation runs far deeper than just rugby.
“A lot of those Auckland boys, they come down here for the opportunity. But when they come down, they come down and they fully invest themselves in club rugby, our high-performance program, and our community.
“They don’t come here and expect an armchair ride. They work as hard, if not harder than anyone else.”
The team will need every ounce of that hard-working competitive edge, if they want to have success against an Auckland side that has dominated its opponents this season, McMillan says.
“They are the reigning champions, and they have started this season in fine form. They are blessed with power and athleticism, so anticipate they will try to physically overpower us.
“If we allow them to win the collisions and we concede cheap metres up front, they have some pretty dangerous centres and outside backs that will run amok if given the opportunity. So we will need to be at our dogged best.”
During this Saturday’s game, teams will be playing for the John Drake Boot, named after former All Black and Auckland prop Drake who passed away suddenly in December 2008.
Drake played all his top rugby in Auckland, but had a strong connection to the Bay. In 1998 the tighthead prop and his family relocated to Mt Maunganui and fell in love with life in that part of the world.
The John Drake Boot was last up for grabs when the two sides meet on 30 September, 2017 during Round 7 of the Mitre 10 Cup.
Bay of Plenty Steamers:
1. Aidan Ross (26) (C)
2. Nathan Harris (31)
3. Jeff Thwaites (33)
4. Aaron Carroll (11)
5. Alex Ainley (1)
6. Hugh Blake (26)
7. Mitch Karpik (18)
8. Abraham Papali’i (1)
9. Richard Judd (18)
10. Jason Robertson (7)
11. Pryor Collier (11)
12. Dan Hollinshead (29)
13. Mathew Skipwith-Garland (10)
14. Emoni Narawa (3)
15. Chase Tiatia (37)
16. Kurt Eklund (1)
17. Tom McHugh (2)
18. Tevita Mafileo (1)
19. Baden Wardlaw (10)
20. Ajay Mua (7)
21. Leroy Carter (1)
22. Lalomilo Lalomilo (1)
23. Joe Ravouvou (1)
** Denotes blazer game – 15 games
() Denotes number of games
Auckland vs Bay of Plenty Steamers
Saturday August 24
Eden Park, Auckland