The Bay of Plenty Steamers have enjoyed an emphatic start to their 2019 Mitre 10 Cup Championship campaign. In their first games they romped home to bonus point wins over Otago and Waikato. In those games combined they have scored 90 points and conceded 21. Both of those games were played at home venues, in Tauranga and Rotorua, but on yesterday they faced their first away trip and they don't get much more daunting than Auckland at Eden Park. It shaped to be the biggest test yet for the men in blue and gold and they went in with nothing to lose.
Going up against the defending Mitre 10 Cup Premiership champions Auckland at Eden Park was never going to be a stroll in the park.
While the Bay of Plenty Steamers ultimately went down 19-13 last night, they did enough to show that if they do win promotion to the Premiership next season they will be no easy beats.
At one point it looked as if Auckland might run away with it and really blow out the score but the Steamers dug deep and had they been more clinical and patient could quite easily have stolen a win.
The Steamers opened the scoring after just three minutes when flanker Mitch Karpik made the most of some good momentum to crash over next to the posts.
Auckland hit back through fullback Salesi Rayasi who produced some brilliant footwork to bamboozle Chase Tiatia on the right wing and score. Auckland trailed 5-7.
Rayasi scored his second 20 minutes in before All Black Rieko Ioane snatched an intercept to score Auckland's third and make it 19-7 at halftime.
Auckland were not able to add to their score in the second half and while the Steamers kicked two penalties, ultimately they fell short.
Steamers head coach Clayton McMillan was pleased with the efforts of his players who showed a willingness to dig in for each other and did not shy away from hard work.
"Our boys tried hard from the get-go, it was a scrappy old game and we never really got any flow going. We had our opportunities but just weren't good enough on the night to nail them.
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"The effort was there throughout the whole game but sometimes the effort was directed in the wrong places. When we had opportunities and we needed to be a little bit patient and have accuracy, it wasn't quite there.
"It's hard to be critical of the lads because it seemed like they worked bloody hard."
The Steamers' set piece has been formidable in the opening two rounds but was a cause for concern against Auckland as they struggled to retain ball at scrum time and at the lineout.
"The set piece has been an area of strength in the last few weeks but we got a bit of a lesson there yesterday. We'll have to go away, take the learnings from that and be better."
All Black hooker Nathan Harris is a crucial cog in the Steamers' set piece but left the field with what looked to be a serious ankle injury early in the second half.
"[Harris] had to go to hospital for some X-rays and the initial diagnosis doesn't look good so we'll see over the next couple of days."
Halfback Richard Judd also went off after a knock to the calve but McMillan said that was more precautionary than anything. The positive was his absence made way for impressive New Zealand under-20 halfback Leroy Carter to get his second run for the side.
"[Carter] was awesome. He's very competitive, very fit and he doesn't get too flustered by being chucked out on the big stage. There's a huge gap in experience between him and Richard Judd but he didn't let that faze him and I thought he did a really good job," McMillan said.
Next weekend, the Steamers travel to Albany to take on North Harbour. That game kicks off at 2.05pm on Sunday.
Bay of Plenty Steamers 13 Auckland 19
Bay of Plenty tries: M Karpik.
Auckland tries: S Rayasi (2), Rieko Ioane.