When Aaron Carroll woke on Saturday morning in Rotorua, the best the Mount Maunganui rugby player could hope for was some time off the bench for the Bay of Plenty Steamers in their Mitre 10 Cup season opener against Ranfurly Shield holders Taranaki.

But how things quickly changed.

Over breakfast he was told lock Tyler Ardron was feeling under the weather with swollen glands.

Less than three hours before kickoff Ardron was ruled out and Carroll promoted to the starting 15, one of three in the run-on team to play their first championship match for the Steamers.


Carroll, who last season played on loan for Thames Valley in the Heartland Championship but who has worn the Bay's yellow and gold hoops since being a Roller Mills player 12 years ago, belied his lack of previous experience at national championship level.

He scored a try and was part of an outstanding display from a comparatively underweight forward pack which paved the way for Bay of Plenty's 30-10 demolition of last season's premiership top qualifiers.

It's the first time the Steamers have opened their campaign with a win since 2015, the first win over Taranaki since 2006 and makes the Steamers the first holders of the Chiefs Country Cup.

"I went into this match with no expectations," the rangy second rower said afterwards.

"I heard at breakfast I probably would play. I didn't have too much time to think about it.

"We're not the biggest pack but I just wanted to make the most of it and show that I belong at this level."

Teaming up with another newcomer, Kane Le'aupepe, in the engine room of a scrum which was seriously struggling in the first half, Carroll and his fellow forwards worked tirelessly to keep the Steamers' continuity through accurate handling and patient use of ball recycling.

Bay of Plenty Steamers winger Fa'asiu Fuatai offloads the ball. Photo / Ben Fraser
Bay of Plenty Steamers winger Fa'asiu Fuatai offloads the ball. Photo / Ben Fraser

One count late in the match had the Steamers with 13 sequences of more than seven phases.

On a cold night at the International Stadium, and with the grass a bit slippery early in the match, coach Clayton McMillan saw his team carry out his instructions to the word.

"The boys were just outstanding, especially in the second half. They didn't make handling mistakes and they didn't concede penalties."

It wasn't just in the second half.

After being exposed by Taranaki out wide in the opening minutes, the Bay stamped their mark on the match with a 17-phase sequence around the 10-minute mark. That led to an attacking 5m scrum from which captain Liam Polwart scored.

Veteran Mike Delany, 36, who was faultless in his control of the backline, kicked the first of six goals and the Steamers had the early lead.

Taranaki levelled after the strong Seta Taimanivalu was unstoppable on the cutback, slipping past the flailing Hugh Blake and it was 7-all.

A Beaudein Waaka penalty had the visitors up 10-7 after 20 minutes, but that was to be their last lead of the match.

After breaks from strong second five eighth Terrence Hepetema and fullback Chase Tiatia, Le'aupepe scored the Steamers' second try at 33 minutes.

Bay of Plenty Steamers second five Terrence Hepetema slips out of a tackle against Taranaki. Photo / Ben Fraser
Bay of Plenty Steamers second five Terrence Hepetema slips out of a tackle against Taranaki. Photo / Ben Fraser

Perhaps the key to Bay of Plenty's outstanding second half was the final stanza of the first half. The Steamers' defence was secure under the most severe of pressure, especially in a back-pedalling scrum, but helped by a missed Taranaki penalty, Bay of Plenty took a 14-10 lead to the break.

The second 40 minutes was completely dominated by the blue and gold hoops. The territorial advantage at one stage was a whopping 64-36 per cent in favour of Bay of Plenty.

Carroll scored his try after 53 minutes, taking a pass from the ever involved Tiatia, and with Delany's perfect goal kicking, the home team were never threatened.

"We'll look back on this game with fond memories," McMillan said afterwards.

"But we don't want to get too carried away. We're back on the park in six days."

Yes, in a hectic competition marked by tight turnarounds, the Steamers play Counties Manukau at Pukekohe on Thursday night.

Bay of Plenty 30
(Liam Polwart, Kane Le'aupepe, Aaron Carroll tries. Mike Delany 3 conversions, 3 penalties)
Taranaki 10
(Seta Taimanivalu try, Beaudein Waaka conversion)