The wait is over. After the start of the Baywide rugby season was disrupted by a global pandemic and nationwide lockdown, senior club rugby finally gets underway this weekend. However, the competition format has been shaken up. David Beck reports.
Usually at this time of year, the Baywide rugby competition would just be getting spicy. With about a month left in the season teams would be battling for playoff spots or fighting for survival.
The season kicks off this weekend but it will look a little different.
Post-lockdown, to ease the strain of travelling to play all over the region, the Bay of Plenty Rugby Union has opted to split the competition into its Western, Central and Eastern sub-unions.
Bay of Plenty Rugby Union community rugby manager Pat Rae said from what he was seeing, there was a lot of excitement around getting back on the field.
"I went to a training for one of our clubs the other night and their premier and development teams were playing against each other. If the way that game was played is anything to go by, we have a lot to look forward to. It was fierce, these two teams were going hard at each other.
"You don't have to be a rocket scientist to see they are just pumped to get back on the field. I'd never watched a session between two teams from the same club where they smashed each other like that."
In the first round of the Western Bay competition on Saturday, all eyes will be on Te Puna versus Tauranga Sports, a rematch of last year's Premier 1 final.
Tauranga Sports coach John Dodd said he could not have asked for a better match-up to start the season.
"The boys are pumped, a lot of the clubs will be the same. We had a really good off season in terms of recruitment and retention so we've got good numbers at the club and they're hugely excited to get out there.
"It's awesome too because Te Puna have the three senior teams like us so to have all our senior teams playing at home against all the champion teams from last year on one weekend will be great," Dodd said.
Dodd said there would be no easy games in the Western competition and with only seven rounds before playoffs, there was a very small margin for error.
"We're pretty lucky here in the Western Bay where seven of the top eight Premier clubs are from here anyway. I think from our perspective it will probably be the most intense competition we've had for a long time because every game matters.
"In years gone by the first round hasn't really meant that much, it's just like a big long preseason really. This is going to be a really intense, short, sharp competition with seven games. A few losses will put you on the back foot pretty quickly so it's really important we start well."
The Central Bay of Plenty competition also kicks off on Saturday while the Eastern Bay sub-union is still sorting out a draw and will kick off next weekend.
A Team of Five Million
In an open letter to the rugby community, Bay of Plenty Rugby Union CEO Mike Rogers and chairman Paul Owen thanked "the entire population of the Bay of Plenty Region and all of New Zealand for the outstanding work we all did in not only flattening the Covid-19 infection curve but virtually eliminating all community transmission of this illness from our shores".
"When the country was taken to Alert Level 4 on Wednesday, March 25 it looked like all sport would be lost for 2020. As a result of your hard work, we are now only days away from seeing rugby back on our club and school rugby fields.
"Our sport is owned and run by our community and you have all performed outstandingly, given the tough and uncertain environment that we've navigated ourselves through."
Bay of Plenty Rugby Draw - Saturday, June 27
Western Bay of Plenty:
Tauranga Sports v Te Puna at Tauranga Domain
Rangiuru v Greerton Marist at Centennial Park
Rangataua v Arataki at Te Ariki Park
Te Puke v Mount Maunganui at Murray Salt Stadium
Central Bay of Plenty:
(All kickoff 2.45pm)
Whakarewarewa v Marist St Michael's at Puarenga Park
Ngongotahā v Rotoiti at Ngongotahā Domain
Waikite v Kahukura at Bellvue Road