It was one of those still, late winter nights where the combined exertions of 30 fit young men in a tense game of national championship rugby meant a cloud of perspiratory steam was regularly hanging in the Pukekohe air.

It was the most appropriate of metaphors.

The Bay of Plenty Steamers, on the evidence of this match and the one before it, are going to be hanging around quite a lot in this year's Mitre 10 Cup.

In the words of the energetic openside flanker Mitch Karpik, the 22-17 win over Counties-Manukau was "a pretty ugly game, but we showed a bit of ticker".

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While delighted with the unbeaten start, Karpik is keeping a cool head.

"It's not how we start the competition, it's how we finish it. But it's a good stepping stone, two from two."

The team's second consecutive win over a team from the tier 1 premiership division came with a real sense of satisfaction for coach Clayton McMillan.

"It wasn't perfect from us, but I'm certainly happy with the resilience and we gutsed it out. Perhaps previously we might not have done that, so it just shows growth."

The Steamers were at their steaming best against Counties Manukau on Thursday night. Photo/Getty Images
The Steamers were at their steaming best against Counties Manukau on Thursday night. Photo/Getty Images

The Steamers scored more points and more tries. And that's really all that matters.

But most of the game's other statistics might be a matter of some concern for the team and coaching staff as they get down to work for next Saturday's big showdown against champions Canterbury at Tauranga Domain.

Counties–Manukau ran more metres, completed more passes and carried the ball more times than Bay of Plenty on Thursday night.

The opposition made more tackles and missed fewer. They won more lineouts and didn't lose as many as the Bay on their own throw-in.

The Steamers conceded more penalties, didn't win as many rucks and mauls and made fewer clean breaks.

McMillan concedes that the win "was a bit lucky in the end".

"We got a little bit frantic at time, took a few poor options and paid dearly for that.

"But we put enough points on the board at the right times and we managed to hang in there and get the result, so we're happy."

HIGHLIGHTS | Counties Manukau v Bay of Plenty 2018

HIGHLIGHTS | Bay of Plenty Rugby have held off a late serge by the Counties Manukau Steelers to go unbeaten in the #Mitre10Cup in 2018! Who was your man of the match❓🤔 MATCH REPORT ➡️ http://bit.ly/2MMH1JN #COUvBOP #Ours

Posted by Mitre 10 Cup on Thursday, 23 August 2018

After each team scored a try in the first half, it was the boot of Mike Delany with a conversion and late penalty which had the Steamers ahead 10-5 at the break.

But the local side assumed the upper hand early in the second half with a well worked try to Sione Molia on the right wing. After the sideline conversion from Latiume Fosita, Counties-Manukau were up 12-10.

For the next few minutes, the Steamers looked rattled. Tackles were missed and even the vastly experienced Delany made a rare mistake by dropping a high ball. It looked ominous.

But Bay of Plenty quickly regained their composure, put together a satisfying sequence of pick-and-go moves inside the opposition 22 culminating in halfback Richard Judd scoring under the posts in the 52nd minute.

Judd was subbed for Luke Campbell three minutes later and the Te Puke Sports man made an immediate impression.

The Steamers regained possession through some fiercely aggressive tackling inside the Counties-Manukau half. From a ruck outside the 22, Campbell saw space in the opposition backfield, chipped over the top and flying fullback Chase Tiatia outsprinted the flailing defence to fall on the ball in the in-goal area for his second try of the match. It turned out to be the match winning moment.

Counties-Manukau No 8 Sam Henwood darted around the ruck from a tap penalty six minutes later, the conversion missed, but the gap was down to just five points and the Steamers had 18 nervous minutes to hang on.

The team's other veteran, 32-year-old Tanerau Latimer had arrived in the game at the same time as Campbell and he played his part in the tense final moments.

"He came on, makes a couple of big plays, and really hustled hard at the breakdown," said McMillan afterwards.

"He forced them into a couple of errors when they were looking like getting back in the game."

McMillan admits he now has a tough choice to make as to who is the team's top halfback.

"It's a really fine line between whether we start Richard Judd or Luke Campbell. We know what Luke can bring to the table. He certainly has a lot of energy and that was great vision from him tonight to see the opportunity in behind and we capitalised on that."

It's a very pleasant problem to have as the team takes a short break before getting down to serious work ahead of the big occasion at the northern end of Cameron Rd next Saturday.