Rugby: All set for Battle of the Bridge

By Ben Guild

The battle of the Bridge and a top four clash between Rotoiti and Te Puke Sports are the marquee match-ups of the fourth round of the premier Baywide rugby competition.

Tauranga Sports will put the WBOPRFS Jordan Cup on the line and will start as favourites after winning the two corresponding matches last season by a combined 22 points.

But things could be tighter tomorrow, if Mount Maunganui's early season form is anything to go by.

The largest winning margin in any of the three matches this season involving the men bearing the Marlin is two points - with all three matches decided in the final moments.

So far, the Mounties have lost 14-15 to Te Puna despite having a late shot at goal, snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in a 25-23 thriller against Rangataua, and conceded 17 points in 11 minutes to lose to Rotoiti 27-28.

Tauranga Sports, on the other hand, will be looking to extend their faultless start to the season after picking up three bonus point victories in as many rounds.

The home side have looked the most dangerous in the competition in beating Greerton Marist, Whakarewarewa and Opotiki, and will no doubt be looking forward to playing their first true home game at Tauranga Domain.

They have scored a total of 117 points in three matches - a full 35 points clear from second highest scorers Whakarewarewa - and will be hoping to exploit the weaknesses of a Mount side that has conceded points in bunches at times.

Tauranga Sports coach Mike Rogers is looking forward to the encounter and says his side will be taking a settled selection into the match, with only injury problems at lock causing some concern. "This is always a big one for us, and playing at home for the first time will be great," said Rogers.

"Mount are a good team and have picked up a few new players. They will probably have four or five ITM Cup quality players on show.

"We've had the rub over the last couple of seasons but that takes nothing away from the contest. The Mount always brings a number of supporters over the bridge, so it's sure to be a big one."

Rogers said his side needed another victory to prevent falling back into a congested points table and should have no problem with complacency after taking maximum points from their three matches so far this season.

Mount Maunganui coach Rodney Voullaire says his side will have no problem getting up for the match after the disappointment of their bizarre final second loss to Rotoiti in round three.

"The boys know they should have had that game, and have bounced back pretty quickly," said Voullaire.

"We've got some new players and Tauranga Sports are pretty much in the same boat, so it will be good to see how all the players pushing for higher honours will match-up." Voullaire said the rugby union was sure to have their selectors at the ground tomorrow, with an eye to filling the final contracted spots for the Steamers' ITM Cup campaign.

Former Rangataua and noted sevens player Adam McGarvey will make his first start of the year at first five-eighth after injury sidelined him for the first few rounds.

Voullaire believes his attacking prowess off the front foot and staunch defence will put him in the frame for a Steamers contract with the departure of Te Puke Sports playmaker Nick McCashin.

Rotoiti will be looking to ride the momentum from their incredible come from behind win over Mount Maunganui against second placed Te Puke Sports at Emery Park.

The Wayne Ormond led fight-back - which included two converted tries and a penalty in the final 11 minutes - will no doubt have the fourth placed side looking to cement themselves as semifinal contenders after four rounds.

Unbeaten Te Puke Sports have fallen three points behind leaders Tauranga Sports after three tight, low scoring affairs, so this match should serve as a fairly good measuring stick for both sides.

Paroa will be looking to get their campaign back on track after their fairy tale beginning to life in the premier division came to an end at the hands of a rampant Whakarewarewa last week.

The newcomers had looked like genuine threats after pushing Te Puke close and beating Greerton Marist in the opening two rounds, but fell 36-10 in round three in a five tries to two mauling.

Te Puna will be aiming to kick-start their campaign after three tight matches have left them with just one win.

The side beat the Mount by a point before losing to Te Puke Sports and Greerton Marist by a combined eight points in rounds two and three, and will desperately need a win against a side one point behind them on the ladder.

Both sides are stuck in a logjam in the middle of the table, with three points between fourth and fifth place and only one point separating teams in positions five through nine.

Two teams used to tight tussles will meet in a match that has the potential to bring further congestion to what is shaping to be a very even competition.

Rangataua are unlucky to be the only team left winless after three rounds, and really should have got a result in one of their close encounters with the Mount or Te Puke Sports.

A Rangataua win would create a fascinating situation where the majority of sides would be within reach of both the semifinals and wooden spoon a quarter of the way through the season, and the 2013 strugglers will likely have a large crowd in support at the picturesque Te Ariki Park.

Whakarewarewa host Opotiki at Puarenga Park in the final match of the round.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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