Continuing their charge through a spectacular season, the Bay of Plenty Steamers go into the final round of the Mitre 10 Cup with a heap of momentum.
The Steamers play Southland in Invercargill tonight, having already secured a home semifinal in the Mitre 10 Cup competition. The Steamers have put together a sparkling seven-win, two-loss record with some memorable performances and their two defeats were by three points or less.
The Steamers' momentum has come in the form of four consecutive victories where they have racked up 174 points and coach Clayton McMillan wants that momentum maintained.
"We know we still have a lot of work to do," McMillan says.
"The boys are really switched on and they are confident of putting in a good performance. There has been a bit of rotation this season, but just a few players here and there. Through injury we have had to rest a couple of players this week but I am confident they will be right for next week.
"We have had a big emphasis on focusing on the game that is directly in front of us, we have been living and breathing that. If we go down there with less than our best we will get we will get caught with our pants down and lose momentum going into finals."
The Steamers have been able to pick apart their opponent's defensive structures seemingly at will this season, with the backline providing some dazzling highlights.
McMillan says the unheralded forwards have provided those opportunities.
"Each individual is coming into it with a mindset of giving it their best. Collectively we are a tough team to beat. It is lovely we are running tries in and the forwards have been great. They have been great at set piece time and equally our defence has been outstanding."
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The Steamers success this season has been on the back of a few years of what McMillan describes as growing pains.
"You enter the season every year with high expectations of having a great environment and that people are happy and the by-product is winning. The important thing is to just keep improving."
While the Steamers are assured of hosting a semifinal, where and when that match will be is yet to be decided. Bay of Plenty Rugby Union chief executive Mike Rogers says there are four slots for the semifinals of the championship and the premiership. One semifinal will take place on Friday night next week while two afternoon games and a night fixture will be played on Saturday.
"New Zealand Rugby make the final decision on the allocation of the semifinals," Rogers says.
"It depends on turnaround times for the teams in the semis so we wont know for sure until after this weekend."
It means if the Steamers are allocated a night fixture for their semifinal, it will be played at Rotorua International Stadium, as Tauranga Domain does not have lights.
"It would be hard not to consider Tauranga as an afternoon option, with the crowds we have had there. I think afternoon rugby is the way to go for Mitre 10 Cup and it is an atmosphere the players love too."
There is a chance the Steamers could earn the top qualifier spot, they would need to beat Southland tonight and also rely on championship leaders Hawke's Bay losing to Counties-Manukau on Saturday. Earning two bonus points in defeat could also earn the Steamers the top spot.
Mitre 10 Cup Round 10:
Bay of Plenty vs Southland.
Thursday, October 10.
7.35pm, Rugby Park, Invercargill.
Steamers line-up for round 10:
Aidan Ross, Nathan Vella, Jeff Thwaites, Aaron Carroll, Baden Wardlaw, Hugh Blake, Mitchell Karpik, Abraham Papali'i, Leroy Carter, Dan Hollinshead, Pryor Collier, Chase Tiatia, Mathew Skipwith-Garland, Narawa Emoni, Jason Robertson.
Reserves: Kurt Eklund, Tevita Mafileo, Chris Eves, Stan Van den Hoven, Tom Franklin, Te Aihe Toma, Dennon Robinson-Bartlett, Declan Barnett.