Steam­ers face tough top-tier games

Bay of Plenty Times - - Sport - Rugby

The four so-called cross­over matches that the Bay of Plenty Steam­ers will play in next year’s Mitre 10 Cup have been de­cided, and make for a daunt­ing chal­lenge.

Th­ese are the four games that the tier-two Cham­pi­onship side will play against top-tier Pre­mier­ship teams.

The Steam­ers will play Welling­ton, Waikato, North Har­bour and the Pre­mier­ship cham­pi­ons Auck­land.

Teams had some say in the picks with the Pre­mier­ship unions, seeded from seven to one, mak­ing their choices for the first and third rounds of picks, while the Cham­pi­onship teams chose their op­po­nents for the sec­ond and fourth games.

The Steam­ers will host Welling­ton and Waikato but play North Har­bour and Auck­land away.

This year’s Steam­ers’ as­sis­tant coach Rod­ney Gibbs ad­mits that with the team’s fi­nal po­si­tion on the ta­ble — fifth in the Cham­pi­onship — they didn’t get a lot of choice.

“We’ve got what we got. At the end of the day you have to play four of those pre­mier­ship teams. I sup­pose the one good thing is that we man­aged to avoid two of the top four this year and don’t have to play Can­ter­bury or Tas­man.”

He’s keen on the prospect of an­other Chiefs derby with Waikato.

“That’s al­ways a good clash, and it’s great that it will be a home game again,” he says, al­though Waikato, who won the 2018 Cham­pi­onship, put more than 50

"I sup­pose the one good thing is that we man­aged to avoid two of the top four this year and don’t have to play Can­ter­bury or Tas­man."

Steam­ers’ as­sis­tant coach Rod­ney Gibbs

points on the Steam­ers in Ro­torua in Septem­ber.

De­ci­sions on which of the home games will be played in Tau­ranga or Ro­torua are not com­pletely in the hands of the Bay of Plenty Rugby Union.

“Things are dic­tated by Sky TV be­cause they work out their sched­ule of matches and ob­vi­ously we can only play day­time matches in Tau­ranga.

“We’d like to play more af­ter­noon matches but if it doesn’t fit in with Sky, it doesn’t fit in,” Gibbs said.

In 2018, the Steam­ers played three night matches in Ro­torua and two af­ter­noon games in Tau­ranga. The Tau­ranga games proved more pop­u­lar with the pub­lic.

This year the Steam­ers were well beaten by both Waikato and North Har­bour and fin­ished fifth in the Cham­pi­onship, miss­ing out on a place in the play­offs.

They last played Welling­ton in the 2017 Cham­pi­onship fi­nal, los­ing in an over­time thriller.

The Steam­ers haven’t played Auck­land since 2017, when Auck­land won 38-19 at Eden Park.

New Zealand Rugby will be­gin work on the rest of the draw for the 2019 Mitre 10 Cup sea­son.

This year the com­pe­ti­tion, in which each team plays 10 matches in nine weeks, started in mi­dAu­gust. Be­cause 2019 is a Rugby World Cup year and there is no mid-sea­son break for Su­per Rugby, the Mitre 10 Cup may start slightly ear­lier.

Gibbs is stand­ing down from be­ing the Steam­ers as­sis­tant coach and is likely to take up a role in the de­vel­op­ment of women’s rugby.

The other as­sis­tant this year, David Hill, has also moved on to work with New Zealand Rugby as a kick­ing and skills con­sul­tant with the All Blacks, and as­sis­tant coach of the New Zealand Un­der-20s.

With head coach Clay­ton McMil­lan in South Amer­ica with the Ma¯ ori All Blacks for the next 10 days, no ap­point­ments of new as­sis­tant coaches for the Steam­ers are likely un­til the New Year.

PHOTO / FILE

Bay of Plenty Steam­ers’ Fa’asiu Fu­atai thun­ders in dur­ing a home game against North­land.

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