BOP 29 Magpies 12
It was fireworks rather than smoke signals the Bay of Plenty Steamers produced as an opening statement as they scored an emphatic 29-12 pre-season win over Hawke's Bay yesterday in Whakatane.
The Steamers scorched their way to a point-a-minute 21-0 lead with tries to wings Lance MacDonald and Jack Wilson and hooker Dan Perrin before the game collapsed in a disjointed heap in the second half as both coaches reached for their reserves.
Bay of Plenty's first half was breathtaking considering they didn't see the ball for the first five minutes, spilling the kickoff and getting a decent early test of their defensive structures as Hawke's Bay bashed their way through two dozen phases of play without going anywhere.
But an attack-at-all-costs mindset was evident as MacDonald scorched down the left wing with his first touch, busting past his Magpies opposite Brynn Uriarau before his last pass to debut second-five Simon Rolleston was spilled with the line looming.
But it took just a minute for MacDonald to exploit Hawke's Bay's flimsy right-side defence, skinning Uriarau, offloading to fullback Kendrick Lynn and then getting the ball back again basketball-style to skirt around behind the posts.
Right wing Wilson, also on debut, scored a stunner, hitting a pass from halfback Jamie Nutbrown on the burst 50m out. Nothing if not direct, the New Zealand sevens speedster lasered in on Magpies first-five Ihaia West and bumped him out of the way before gassing the cover for a half-field beauty.
MacDonald said the run-and-gun ploy was deliberate and the way they wanted to use the ball this season.
"I'd say that's what people are going to see; it's definitely the style of rugby the boys are keen to play. We've got the firepower out wide, some real good feeders inside and good boys up front that should get us some ball," the 26-year-old backline utility said.
"That D [defence] in the first four or five minutes just got us hissing. They really retained the ball well but never went anywhere.
"We came out of that patch feeling more energised and felt as though we could really throw the ball around after that."
Hawke's Bay were a way off their best, with plenty of quality filtering back in once the Super Rugby bruises subside. But the Steamers looked sharp and were missing several key performers as well, and it will be their kernel-sized mistake rate and accuracy on defence that will have pleased new coaching combo Kevin Schuler and John Walters.
Perrin added to Hawke's Bay's misery on the quarter in the best team try of the game, Nutbrown fielding a kick on his side of halfway, haring off across the field on an audacious counterattack to link with Rolleston and impressive Aussie import Mafileo Kefu before a diving Perrin finish the multi-faceted move.
Hawke's Bay's opener also had a touch of daredevil about it as West stole the ball off first-five Chris Noakes, racing 60m before being nailed by Wilson but somehow offloading to wing Jesse MacDonald and picking himself off the grass to get the ball back again in a sweeping 90m move.
If the first half was razzle-dazzle the second 40 was anything but, with the arrival of a drizzle, a benchload of reserves and referee Shane McDermott's more literal interpretation of the rules than his first-half counterpart, Glen Jackson, stemming the flow.
MacDonald got time at fullback as most the backline was reshuffled and admitted a decent battle was brewing as he and Wilson prepared to jostle with Lelia Masaga, Ben Smith and Lynn for the wing and fullback positions.
"Fullback or left wing, I'm not too fazed," was the pint-sized player's answer to the looming selection puzzler. "The good thing is I'm fit and firing and ready to put my best foot forward to give it a crack. When you look at the guys lining up to play at the back there's potentially a lot of competition there but the [ITM Cup] tournament is still pretty condensed so most of the boys know they won't play every game.
"The most important thing is putting a good 15 out every week so we don't lose anything."
Rolleston capped off a tidy first game with a gimme try after an eye-catching burst from Bay development player Maru Henry, while the Magpies had the final say when replacement forward Alex Bradey went over in the dying minutes.
Bay of Plenty round off their ITM Cup preparation with two games next week against the Wasps in Rotorua (Tuesday) and North Harbour in Katikati (Friday).
Result: Bay of Plenty Steamers 29 (Lance MacDonald, Jack Wilson, Dan Perrin, Simon Rolleston tries; Chris Noakes 3 con, Nick McCashin pen) Hawke's Bay Magpies 12 (Ihaia West, Adam Bradey tries; West con). HT: 21-7.