There was a moment in Friday night's unforgettable Mitre 10 Cup Championship final against Wellington when I thought the Steamers were going to be run over.

Wellington had come from 14-5 down to lead 28-14 into the second half and they had all the momentum. Everything was in their favour - home crowd and ground, the confidence of losing just once all season and a bigger, physical pack of forwards starting to stretch their ample muscles.

Read more: As it happened: Wellington v Bay of Plenty

But this group of young Bay of Plenty players - plus magnificent Mike Delany aged 35 - are made of the sort of stuff that characterised how their coach Clayton McMillan played in every one of his 113 games for the Steamers.


They just refused to give in, dug deeper than ever before, and stormed back into the match with most probably the whole of New Zealand outside the capital roaring them on.

Canada international Tyler Ardron cleverly intercepted a wild pass and scored under the posts before brilliant finisher Joe Webber went on a 40m burst through the Wellington front-line defence, then stepped past and out-gunned the cover defence for the try of the year.

At 28-28 it was game on and the upset was on. Bay of Plenty scored late in the game to make it 40-40 and forced the game into 20 minutes of extra time, which ultimately proved too much for the brave but battered Steamers.

Although there was the lingering feeling that they had missed a chance or two to steal the match in the regular 80 minutes, it was nothing compared to the wastefulness shown by Wellington's inept goal kicker Jackson Garden-Bachop.

The fact Wellington were too strong in extra time takes nothing away from the Steamers, who have in one season restored belief in the jersey. Throughout the union, there is only pride in how the 23 players ran Wellington closer than they could have imagined.

Bubbling beneath the Steamers' success is a lesser known fact that underpins the future success of the union. All the age group men's and women's teams are now winning, which was not the case in the last few years.

On Saturday, the Volcanix women won the Mitre 10 Farah Palmer Cup Championship final against Otago to be promoted to the Premiership. Last year they could not win a game. That is real progress.

The key now is for the Bay of Plenty Rugby Union's flagship team to consistently make playoffs and finals. No more one good year, five poor years scenario, thanks very much Steamers.

The only disappointing note on Friday night came when Bay of Plenty were referred to as "having done well for a little union" in the post-match presentations on Sky TV.

Nothing could be further from the truth. This union is geographically the largest in the country and in playing numbers is third, with only Auckland and Canterbury fielding more players across all ages groups. Bay of Plenty is bigger than Wellington and Waikato on that scale.

It is time to show the wider rugby public that Bay of Plenty deserve their place at the top table alongside Canterbury, Auckland, Tasman and Taranaki.