Peter is a sports writer at the Bay of Plenty Times

BOP Steamers season in review

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BTG 15Oct16 - MR CONSISTENT: Loose forward Joe Tupe has been a star for the Steamers. PHOTO/BAY OF PLENTY TIMES
BTG 15Oct16 - MR CONSISTENT: Loose forward Joe Tupe has been a star for the Steamers. PHOTO/BAY OF PLENTY TIMES


Another Mitre 10 Cup finals day kicks off around the country today without Bay of Plenty involved.

The Steamers have been absent from the key date on every team's calendar for so long now that hard-pressed loyal fans must be wondering if the glory days will ever return.

But while this year's semifinal placing in the Mitre 10 Cup Championship is below par for what the union's coaching and administration hierarchy were after, the season has produced more positives than negatives.

It may be hard to believe when the Steamers won only three out of 10 pool games but there was substantial improvement from last year in crucial areas.

This season's campaign was probably the best by a Bay of Plenty side since 2011, when the team finished fourth in the top Premiership division after beating Canterbury and thrashing Waikato 36-8 and Wellington 32-0.

But it could - and should - have been so much better.

"I suppose the word to describe the season is frustration," head coach Clayton McMillan said.

"When we spoke pre-season our goals were around reaching the final and Premiership promotion.

"I really think it depends on what you determine success as. That would have been an obvious indication that we have had a successful season whereas with a three win, seven loss record things don't look too flash.

"But now we've had time to reflect on the season I feel there has actually been a lot of progress made in a lot of areas but they just didn't reflect in (wins)."

The Steamers ended with 11 bonus points, more than any other team in either division, which reflected how close they got to winning most of the seven games they lost.

That inability to close out tight games will ultimately define the 2016 campaign.

"We have been doing a lot of work around some key trends and statistics that paint a pretty clear picture around those teams that are really successful and those like ourselves, that tend to be a little bit up and down and to be frank are around the bottom end of the table," McMillan said.

"Some of it is a little bit beyond our control and some of it is we need to be better as a rugby team and as management to turn those close losses into wins.

"As an example we had a losing average across the season of 6.68 points, which is less than a converted try. Last year that was 17.3. Against Premiership teams the average losing margin this year was 6.3 points and last year was 25.7.

"So we have made some significant gains and scored plenty of tries that was right up there in the competition and our set piece has been really strong.

"Lots of areas have been really good but we just haven't been able to get across the line. I think a lot of that comes down to lack of Super Rugby experience and just
experience in general, and just being able to win the key moments in games.

"That ultimately comes down to a skill set and experience with being able to deal with things under pressure. That probably was the difference between us winning and losing some of those tight games."

FRUSTRATED: Steamers coach Clayton McMillan
FRUSTRATED: Steamers coach Clayton McMillan

Better goalkicking could well have seen the Steamers playing North Harbour in the Championship final last night.

Bay of Plenty had the lowest goalkicking statistics in the entire competition, which is simply not good enough and goes together with the lack of a top class first-five that every successful team has.

The most telling stat of all is Bay of Plenty had four Super Rugby players, just 13 per cent of the squad, which was the second lowest out of all 14 provincial unions.

"There is a real correlation between the results and the amount of Super Rugby players you have in your squad. That is obvious," McMillan said.

"I haven't been one in the last couple of years to make excuses but there are some things that are just not so obvious to people sitting on the outside looking in.

"Our challenge is to either produce more Super rugby players or get a couple in but even that is a bit easier said than done because you still have to get them here.

"In areas we can get stats on, that's tries, lineouts, scrums, defence tackle percentages, ruck percentages, we consistently feature in the top half of the table.

"That shows how we have bridged that gap from losing by 25 points to six but again when it doesn't say W it looks like a bit of a failure when it actually isn't.

"It is not that far away but there are still challenges. This is not going to change next year.

"The top teams with the most Super Rugby players are still going to be at the top and the same old teams are going to be battling it out at the bottom."

Injuries are a factor in every team of course but in the case of the Steamers it was devastating to lose the class of Chase Tiatia, Johan Bardoul, Mitch Karpik, Carl Axtens, Nathan Harris, Seb Siataga, Jordan Lay and Joe Webber for all or most of the season.

"It was massive for us," McMillan said.

"The good thing it gave others an opportunity to play and puts us in really good stead moving forward. A lot of players who got high minutes probably wouldn't have had that opportunity if everyone had been fit and available.

"A classic example of that was (fullback) Isaac te Aute, a 19-year-old kid who we probably envisaged would play one or two games through the season. He actually accumulated the most playing minutes of any player in our team.

"By his own admission he would have learned a lot but we know him to be a much better player for it in 2017."


Bay of Plenty Rugby needs more financial support


The Steamers have struggled to fill the contentious 10 jersey with a top class, consistent playmaker and goal kicker since Mike Delaney and Chris Noakes.

Bay of Plenty Rugby CEO Mike Rodgers says it is one of the positions currently under review.

"It is an area both internally and externally we recognise we need to get better at," he said.

"We have invested in Dan Hollinshead obviously as a local talent over the last three years. I guess we have to remember he turned 21 (in June) and came straight out of school at Tauranga Boys' College into Mitre 10 Cup environment so it was a pretty challenging start for him.

"In hindsight it may not have been the best thing for him.

"We have to weigh up how much more can we continue to develop Dan and we have a responsibility to help him get better.

"We need to consider what are we going to do in that space in terms of developing our local talent or looking to attract others to our region to get to where we want to be.

"And I don't think it is just 10. It is 9 and 10 and other key areas where we need more experience or we need quality leadership.

"We don't think we are far off, we are making progress but we are certainly not where we want to be. We have pretty high aspirations to get to the top of the tree.

"We are making incremental progress but so is everyone else around the country, so at some point we are going to need to take a significant shift if we want to get closer to the top of the competition.

"We need to figure out how we do that."

POSITIVE: Bay of Plenty Rugby CEO Mike Rogers
POSITIVE: Bay of Plenty Rugby CEO Mike Rogers

Rogers says off the pitch the union has made massive improvements and is now in a good position to attract the best players.

"The facilities we have here (high performance sports centre) is by far the best, not just in the Chiefs but is right up there in terms of nationally, and we have a hell of a lot of faith in Clayton (McMillan) and our staff to deliver an outstanding programme.

"From a holistic point of view we are starting to get good relationships with the University of Waikato and Toi Ohomai and those institutions providing good accommodation options.

"All those things contribute to providing an environment where young players see as their best pathway. We have made big strides and we are really confident about our recruitment class for next year.

"We have some great young talent both locally and from outside the region that want to be here.

"Our relationship with the Chiefs is better than its ever been and so I think they have got more confidence in the fact we can provide an environment where talented young players can be successful."

But a lack of support from the Bay of Plenty business community is holding the union back.

"There is no way of getting away from the fact we have among the lowest commercial budget in the country in terms of what we generate,' Rogers said.

"We are right down at the bottom of the competition along with the likes of Southland and Northland.

"We need to find solutions to generating more commercial revenue so we can fund our high performance environment."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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