Tauranga Sports made an early season statement by beating reigning Baywide champions Mount Maunganui Sports on their home turf of Blake Park on Saturday.
The 27-19 victory in the WBOP Premier competition was thoroughly deserved with Tauranga scoring three tries to one in an impressive display of the depth of talent they have across their squad.
It was clearly evident Tauranga's forward pack had been decimated by injuries and players unavailable when first choice loose forwards Carl Axtens and Jeff Thwaites had to fill the lock positions.
The game struggled to reach any heights in the opening 30 minutes before Bay of Plenty Steamers midfielder Nick Evemy showed his class to cut through the Mount defence and send winger Ralulu Bavou in for the opening try.
Just before the break the Mount looked set to score after some sustained pressure but centre Zar Lawrence spilled a pass five metres out.
Evemy and Clayton Stewart traded penalties until the break with Tauranga ahead 10-6. Mount began the second stanza well and took the lead with two more Stewart penalties. But Tauranga stormed back in front with a try to replacement hooker Paula Hopoi after a fine break by winger Jason Harvey, who was next to score after Aifai Esera split the Mount defensive line.
A late charge down and try by No8 Chris Elvin gave the home side hope but Tauranga held on for early season bragging rights. First-five Scott Lyle, 18, impressed in his Premier debut for Tauranga.
Referee Shane McDermott was an assistant referee for the Super Rugby clash in Wellington on Friday night and made the effort to get back to officiate. He let the rucks and mauls develop without being pedantic and impressed with his rapport with the players.
Meanwhile, across the city in Te Puke, the home side lost their third consecutive game of the new season when they were outscored 23-19 by a rejuvenated Te Puna team. Greerton Marist bounced back from a flogging by Tauranga Sports last week to beat Rangataua Sports 32-20 away at Te Ariki Park.
Tauranga Sports 27 (Ralulu Bavou, Paula Hopoi, Jason Harvey tries; Nick Evemy 3 cons, penalty, drop goal) defeated Mount Maunganui Sports 19 (Chris Elvin try; Clayton Stewart con, 4 pens). HT: 10-6.