OPINION: Steamers just do enough to win promotion
There are times in sport when only the result matters.
Forget about the dodgy tactics or the inability of players to perform under pressure. At grand final time, winning is the only goal.
The Bay of Plenty Steamers are a case in point, after nearly throwing away the Mitre 10 Cup Championship final played at the Rotorua International Stadium on Friday night.
In the end, the scoreboard read 12-7 to Bay of Plenty and promotion to next year’s Premiership had been achieved. But it was a very close-run game.
Pre-match all the portents were showing that the Steamers would continue on their merry way, running in try after try and send the Hawke’s Bay Magpies home with another beating.
But for various reasons, that did not happen.
Call it stage fright or whatever but the best attacking team in the competition decided hoofing the ball aimlessly down the park was the best option and it played right into the hands of the Magpies.
Scoreboard pressure would have done for them, just one seven-pointer early on maybe, but as the minutes ticked by in the first half, with the Steamers ahead by just three points, you could see the collective will of the Magpies lift.
It could so easily have been a different outcome but for a heroic tackle on the goalline by Mitchell Karpik, which saved a certain Magpies try under the posts in the sixth minute.
It was one of many reasons why the openside flanker was a shoo-in for Man of the Match.
Leading 6-0 at halftime and then 12-0 after 45 minutes through penalty goals, it seemed the Steamers tactics would work.
But then a botched pass from Dan Hollinshead was swooped on by the aptly named Jonah Lowe to close the gap to 12-7 and change the complexity of the game.
The Magpies would have taken out the final, if not for one of the best organised and courageous defensive efforts you are ever likely to see by the Steamers.
With five minutes to play, the Steamers held out in their own 22 against a relentless tide of attacking raids from the black and white marauders.
Only when the count reached a remarkable 28 phases, did the Steamers win a penalty and eventually the match.
Captain Aidan Ross celebrated his 24th birthday by leading from the front, as he has done so all season.
He says it was not the footy that everyone had seen in the last 11 weeks from his team but he put it down to grand final rugby.
“Pressure does things to you. Big ups to Hawke’s Bay. They played a hell of a semi last week. I kind of knew it would unify them a bit and that showed today. They came here and put in a gutsy performance.
“I guess the old saying defence wins championships came true. We were on the back foot with a lot of defence and that was the key to the win.”
Steamers head coach Clayton McMillan was equally relieved and happy to hear the final whistle blow.
“We have been blessed with a pretty good season really. We have not had a lot to complain about. We had some injuries to key personnel early but we had enough depth to be able to cover those. It has kind of been a dream ride really.
“We have been playing good rugby and the people have been turning up both here (Rotorua) and Tauranga. It was just a case of giving ourselves an opportunity to win the Championship and I am just grateful that we did.”