It's official, the Bay of Plenty Steamers will play a home semifinal in the Mitre 10 Cup Championship.
An emphatic 46-10 win over the Manawatu Turbos at the Tauranga Domain yesterday, part of a doubleheader with the Bay of Plenty Volcanix , has put them far enough ahead of third-placed Otago to ensure a top-two finish.
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While the Steamers dominated territory and possession in the first half, playing into the breeze, they struggled to turn that dominance into points. They did make a couple of breakthroughs - tries to winger Joe Ravouvou and hooker Kurt Eklund, as well as a Kaleb Trask penalty, giving them a 15-3 lead at the break.
Steamers head coach Clayton McMillan said his side was lucky to hold Manawatu out as they almost scored right before halftime.
"I thought it would've been a bit of a different game if we'd gone in trailing 10-8 so to score just before halftime ourselves was big.
"The feedback from the lads was that the wind was probably more of an effect on the game than what it looked."
In the second half, the Steamers found top gear, to the delight of the vocal Tauranga Domain crowd, and scored tries for fun on the way to a bonus-point win.
Ravouvou completed a hat-trick, fellow winger Emoni Narawa got in on the act, as did halfback Richard Judd, before replacement first five Jason Robertson sealed the deal with a 50m intercept try.
The Steamers did not escape the match without collateral damage, however, as Trask was stretchered from the field in the second half with a suspected broken jaw. McMillan said it was a tough blow for the young first five who was finally back to his best form after a horror run of injuries.
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"It doesn't look too promising for young Kaleb and we're pretty gutted for him because he was starting to come into some stellar form. He has [had a tough run], he hasn't strung back-to-back seasons together for a little while but injuries are a part of rugby and sometimes they come to one or two people more often than we would like.
"But Kaleb is young and he'll come back and continue to grow, I'm sure."
McMillan said securing a home semifinal was "huge".
"There's some quality sides in this competition and just getting to the semis has proven hard over a number of years. To secure a home semi with a week left in the competition is pleasing but we have to keep moving forward and progressing our game."
Steamers captain Aidan Ross said it was pleasing to get the win despite not quite producing a complete performance.
"Probably going into halftime there, the scoreboard seemed pretty close but we knew physically we had the edge on them and we just had to come out in the second half and put on a show."
He said the coaches told the players to keep working in the second half and the scoring opportunities would come.
"They said it would open up and it did, we just had to not go off on our own little tangents and stick to the game plan."
Ross said, as a forward, it was nice to know that the side had enough talent in the backs to pile points on if given enough quality ball.
"They're pretty exciting, they're given a bit of free licence to do what they want and some of the tries they're putting on are incredible. We just need them to keep doing what they're doing.
"[Securing a home semifinal] is definitely great, a couple of years ago we had a home semi here but went on to Wellington to lose that final. When it comes to finals footy, home advantage definitely goes a long way."
This Thursday, the Steamers travel to Invercargill to take on Southland. If they win there and Hawke's Bay go down to Tasman, the Steamers will finish the round-robin in first place. Whether their semifinal is held in Rotorua or Tauranga will likely depend on the time of day the match is scheduled for as Rotorua International Stadium has floodlights but the Tauranga Domain does not.