Two pieces of individual brilliance from winger Matthew Garland weren't quite enough to give the Bay of Plenty Steamers a win over Auckland in their Mitre 10 Cup pre-season match in the sunshine at Moore Park, Katikati today.
Auckland won 16-14, a result that ultimately doesn't mean much with the Steamers' season proper starting against Taranaki a week today in Rotorua, but the large crowd sniffed a win over the visiting premiership side when Garland scored a smart try on the right-hand side, sidestepping two Auckland defenders, midway through the second half.
Kaleb Trask, who'd scored a try in the first half after it was set up by a searing, jinking run from Garland, kicked his second conversion of the afternoon and the Bay led 14 – 8 with about 20 minutes to play.
But from the restart came a moment Chase Tiatia will probably not remember too fondly. The Auckland kickoff went deep, down towards the Steamers goal line.
Tiatia waited for it to bounce into the in-goal area so he could force the dropout.
But as everybody who's played the game knows, rugby balls bounce in funny ways.
This time it didn't bounce forward, Tiatia was stranded and fast following Auckland wing AJ Lam pounced on it to nab a try, closing the gap to just one point.
When Daniel Kirkpatrick kicked a penalty from a handy position with five minutes to play, Auckland took a lead they never relinquished.
Steamers coach Clayton McMillan wasn't too distressed.
"It's always nice to win the game, but the result was a little bit secondary to getting some minutes under the belt for some of our boys who have come back from Super rugby, and trying to build on some combinations leading into next week.
"And no injuries, so even better."
McMillan is also singing the praises of Garland.
"He's going to be a really important member of our team this year. Certainly, through our pre-season, he's been one of our best performers, and he brings great utility value. He can play anywhere from 12 (second five-eighths) back to 15 (fullback), so we're hoping he can have a great Mitre 10 Cup season."
The Steamers had a 24 man squad for Katikati, and everybody had some game time, while Auckland brought 28 players and gave all of them at least a short run.
But despite the visitors from the big city appearing to have the bigger pack, the Steamers forwards were impressive.
Tyler Ardron, the big Canadian lock whose season with the Chiefs was affected by injury towards the end of that campaign, played the full 80 minutes and stood out with some strong carries and a high work rate, while his Chiefs teammate Liam Polwart was also prominent at hooker and even managed a couple of lineout steals on poor Auckland throws.
One area McMillan wants to address before the match against Taranaki is the body position of some of his runners with the ball in hand.
A classic case was right at the end when substitute No 8 AJ Mua took a tap penalty on the Auckland 10 metre line but carried the ball standing tall, straight into the Auckland defensive line.
He coughed it up, Auckland won the scrum and kicked for touch to finish the game.
"When you run against big boys like that, you're going to come off second best" McMillan suggested ruefully after the match.
He was also pleased with the way his side responded after being exposed by dynamic Auckland No 8 Akiro Ioane in the first half. The powerhouse loose forward busted a tackle in midfield, linked up on the right and Harry Plummer scored.
While Ioane was always a threat before he was subbed off in the second half, Auckland didn't mount an attack as potent for the rest of the match and their only other try was somewhat fortuitous.
But the Steamers coach seems confident heading into the provincial championship.
"There's lots to be positive about in the pre-season, but you don't collect any points in the pre-season and we know the level will go up tenfold next week."
Auckland 16 (Harry Plummer, AJ Lam tries. Daniel Kirkpatrick 2 penalties) Bay of Plenty 14 (Kaleb Trask, Matthew Garland tries,
Trask 2 conversions).