Rugby: Te Puke defend unbeaten tag

By Ben Guild

Saturday's round five of an incredibly even Baywide premier rugby competition marks moving day for teams clustered together on the points table.

The match of the round is likely to be that between second placed Te Puke Sports and third placed Whakarewarewa at Murray Salt Stadium.

Te Puke are unbeaten but have not looked as fluent as some of the other sides in scoring only the sixth most points in the ten team league, while Whakarewarewa are the third most prolific scorers behind Tauranga Sports and a resurgent Greerton Marist.

It is on defence, though, that the two sides have done most of their damage.

Te Puke Sports have been especially stingy without the ball, conceding just 53 points in four matches.

Their upcoming opposition are right behind in that respect, having only 67 points put on them so far this year.

Te Puke coach Craig Jeffries said Whakarewarewa can never be underestimated - especially during a season with an increased amount of parity between teams.

"Apart from the end of last year they have always been a strong team, they'll certainly keep us honest," said Jeffries.

"A lot of the teams have picked up their act a hell of a lot. You look at the Greerton result - obviously they've done a lot of homework. Rotoiti have a stronger team than they had last year and I think Whakarewarewa do. So I definitely think it's a more even competition."

While his side is unbeaten after four rounds, Jeffries said they are still gelling at the beginning of a long season.

"Obviously we've got a reasonably new squad - people are wondering why we aren't dominating at the moment, but when you look at that squad there's ten guys out of the 22 from last week who weren't in the squad last year.

"There has been a big change in personnel and we tend to overlook that at times. It would be nice if you could keep the same guys together, but it's also great to bring in these young boys out of school who bring so much enthusiasm and a willingness to learn.

"There's been some big changes there, and everyone always goes on about losing Nick McCashin, but you've got some pretty classy guys in behind running the show now. Simon Rolleston was there last year running the joint and he's still there - it's certainly coming along."

With more rain forecast for the weekend Jeffries said his side will need to be on its toes.

"We might be in some pretty unfamiliar territory there. We haven't played much wet weather footy for a while apart from the final last year."

Five teams, in positions four through eight, are separated by just four points after a month's worth of action, with things likely to get even more condensed after the weekend.

Greerton Marist, who shade Te Puna for fourth spot on points differential, will host sixth-placed Rotoiti in a match between teams with identical win/loss records.

Both sides have two wins and two losses, with Greerton Marist in need of a good win to stay ahead of a Te Puna outfit hosting winless Rangataua.

Luckless Mount Maunganui, who have somehow lost three of four fixtures by a combined five points, will meet Opotiki at Blake Park in another match between teams that cannot be separated on the points table.

The sides each have seven points after four rounds, making the early season contest a crucial one in not losing touch with the tournament's frontrunners.

Tauranga Sports will visit Paroa in the final match of the round.

The competition leaders will no doubt be buoyed by last week's last-gasp win over Mount Maunganui, with sights set firmly on creating a points cushion between themselves and other teams chasing a spot in the top four.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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