Magic pill still eludes Steamers
The glasses are emptying on the bar of the Last Chance Saloon for the Bay of Plenty Steamers rugby team.
About the only good thing to emerge from Thursday night’s disappointing 17-15 loss to Manawatu at Rotorua International Stadium is that the Steamers secured a bonus point for the narrow loss and still hold fifth place in the Championship division.
But they have only three matches left if they are to avoid their worst season in the Mitre 10 Cup since 2014, two of them in the South Island, and they’ll likely have to win all three, possibly with bonus points, to make the semifinals for the fourth consecutive year.
The match against the Turbos was, like many in recent weeks, characterised by promising moves wrecked by basic mistakes.
Many was the time a good sequence of recycled ball phases was put together, only for it to be ruined by a dropped ball or a penalty concession at the breakdown.
“We’re potentially searching for the magic pill instead of being accurate and patient and cashing in on the opportunities that we’re creating,” said head coach Clayton McMillan afterwards.
And when it’s not your night, it just isn’t your night. As if a plethora of dropped passes wasn’t enough, the talented fullback and first five Kaleb Trask, who otherwise impresses more and more each match, missed the simplest of conversions after Aaron Carroll scored in the second half.
He hung his head in embarrassment but it was just typical of the Steamers’ night.
“I don’t know what it is,” said Luke Campbell, the halfback who came on as an injury substitution and played on the wing, scoring a late try.
“The boys are running hard, tackling hard. We just need to be smarter around our discipline and really get that last pass to finish it off and create some more tries,” Campbell said.
“Sometimes you’re putting 10-plus phases together and not getting a reward, so it is frustrating.”
To compound matters, the Steamers have sustained two more serious injuries. First five Jason Robertson and loosehead prop Solomona Sakalia left the field within minutes of each other in the first half. Robertson has a fractured fibula and Sakalia a partial Achilles tear.
By Friday morning both had a leg in plaster, their seasons over.
Utility back Matt Garland, who started at second five on Thursday, didn’t return after half time because of a hamstring issue and his future prospects are unclear.
It just adds to a long list which started before the Mitre 10 Cup began, with front rowers Aidan Ross and Sab Siataga ruled out.
That’s been compounded by what’s happened to Mike Delany, Liam Polwart, Tanerau Latimer and Hugh Blake. Now Sakalia and Robertson, and possibly Garland, are added to the list.
“I really don’t want to use injury as an excuse for performances that have been below expectations for ourselves and our stakeholders and the public,” says McMillan.
“We’re creating opportunities. We’re just not being clinical enough at the times when it really matters.”
But the long injury list means a couple of stars from the Bay’s Under 19 teams of the last two years will travel to Dunedin and Invercargill. A prop from this year’s New Zealand Under 20 team, Tevita Mafileo, will probably come in for Sakalia. Then the hard-running, 100kgplus mid-field back from this year’s champion Under 19s, Lalomilo Lalomilo, will likely be brought in because of the situation with Robertson and Garland.
No matter who travels south, the game in Dunedin next Wednesday must be won. Otherwise the Steamers will not be in the top four.
Presuming the top Premiership team Auckland beat Otago at Eden Park last night, the match under the roof at Forsyth Barr Stadium will be between the teams placed fourth and fifth on the Championship table, with Otago five points ahead.
“We’ve got to win, with bonus points probably,” says Luke Campbell about the trip south. “I think the trip could be good for us, to keep us tight.”
That’s not the only thing that needs to be kept tight. So do those fumbled passes.
The Steamers Bailey Simonsson makes a break against Manawatu on Thursday night.