The Bay of Plenty Steamers have defied their underdog status to beat Taranaki for the first time since 2006.
The 30-10 win at Rotorua International Stadium was a dominant one, against Premiership opposition, and saw the home side claim the Chiefs Country Cup and the Peter Burke Trophy. The brand new Chiefs Country Cup is contested between the four Chiefs provincial unions and the Peter Burke Trophy is up for grabs whenever Bay of Plenty play Taranaki.
Taranaki looked dangerous with ball in hand from the get-go and had the first scoring opportunity of the match, awarded a penalty just outside the 22m line three minutes into the first half. However, fullback Beaudein Waaka was unable to hit the target.
Thirteen minutes into the game the Steamers made them pay with a try to captain Liam Polwart in his blazer game. They put Taranaki under pressure after stealing a lineout just outside the 22m line and after a sustained period of pressure Polwart crashed over from close range. First five Mike Delany converted the try to make it a 7-0 lead.
Taranaki were finding plenty of gaps in the Bay of Plenty defensive line when they had possession and after 15 minutes they had their first try. Winger and excitement machine Seta Tamanivalu charged at the line from inside the 22m and was too big and strong to be stopped. This time Waaka had the radar working with his kick and the score was locked at 7-all.
Taranaki flanker Lachlan Boshier made a break from halfway and was tackled a metre short of the 22m line, but won his side a penalty. Waaka split the sticks from right in front and Taranaki led 10-7.
The Steamers were beginning to enjoy more of the territory and possession and 29 minutes in they made it count. They broke down the right-hand side and after several phases lock Kane Le'aupepe, on his Steamers debut, bulldozed his way over the line. Delany converted for a 14-10 lead, which they carried into halftime.
The Steamers' halftime team talk was clearly an effective one as they spent the first 10 minutes of the second half camped in Taranaki territory. The pressure paid off when another lock on debut Aaron Carroll charged over on the back of a break orchestrated by Chase Tiatia and Matthew Garland. Delany converted and Bay of Plenty led their Premiership opposition 21-10.
The Steamers continued to pile the pressure on a shocked looking Taranaki side and with 16 minutes left to play Delany kicked a penalty to extend the lead to 24-10.
Bay of Plenty demonstrated an intelligent kicking game and expert ball retention to completely dominate possession and territory. Delany added another two penalty goals to make it a comfortable 30-10 win.
Garland, who plays club rugby for Whakarewarewa, said it was an honour and a priviledge to play in front of his home crowd.
"It was awesome, I've got lots of whanau here and the Whakarewarewa whanau so I had to perform.
"We knew it was going to be a tough game, but we just nailed down our roles, played to our strengths and got the result. We had a good week of preparation, we knew we hadn't beaten them for a while, but we definitely believed we could do it. The culture of this team is really good, we all play for each other."
Aaron Carroll, who was a late call up to the starting side when Tyler Ardron pulled out, did not miss a beat on debut. He was a dominant force throughout the game and loved every minute, including getting over the try line.
"It was awesome, I have a wicked team around me and there was a wicked atmosphere. I'm stoked my debut was at a home ground, I've got lots of mates and family here and I'm just glad we put on a win.
"It was outstanding, in the first competitive game of the year, to take down Taranaki like that. It's looking good for the rest of the season, onwards and upwards from here."