Crunch clash at Tauranga Domain

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Bay of Plenty prop Jeff Thwaites has captained Te Puna to a great start this season. Photo / File

By Peter White

Te Puna Sports sit proudly at the top of the Baywide Premier round one standings after a special start to their 2017 season.

Coached by former Bay of Plenty lock Aidan Kuka, who is steeped in the history and values of his proud club, Te Puna have set the early running this season playing an attacking brand of rugby.

They have scored 200 points from five games, with Te Puke Sports next with 162, and lead the competition on 20 match points ahead of Tauranga Sports and Arataki on 17 with Te Puke, Paroa, Rangataua Sports and Whakarewarewa all on 15.

Rotoiti make up the top eight with Greerton Marist and Mount Maunganui just below the crucial eighth place to contest the Championship round - so expect plenty of energy and commitment when Greerton and Mount face off against each other at Blake Park tomorrow.

But for Te Puna the biggest challenge yet this season is in the clash of the round tomorrow afternoon against Tauranga Sports from 2.45pm at Tauranga Domain.

"In my eyes I see Tauranga as the benchmark team of the competition. I look at their playing squad and they have strike weapons all over the park so we are going to have to be on our game again to come away with a win on Saturday," Kuka said.

"But in saying that the group of men that I have are up for the challenge. They set themselves high goals and I expect they will rise to this new challenge."

Te Puna defeated Mount Maunganui 28-22 under lights on Tuesday night in an important win.

The game plan of putting pressure on through use of the high ball worked well with Te Puna's chase line forcing errors in the first half, before a solid defensive effort paid dividends in the latter stages of the match.

Te Puna's success so far this season is no fluke.

It is the continuation of the hard work done last year when a much improved team just missed the semifinals.

"We set ourselves a goal of trying to continue on what we put in place last year and we did some good stuff on the field but it is probably off the field where we are making the biggest difference I think," Kuka said.

"Just with our culture and our depth and all that sort of stuff. We definitely have some good young kids coming through and we have forged some relationships within the [Bay of Plenty] union and they recognise we have been doing some hard work and some good stuff in behind the scenes.

"Them sending young players out to us is not an issue anymore and they know we can look after them quite well."

In other Premier matches tomorrow, high-flying Arataki host Te Puke at Grenada Park in what should be a close encounter, Rangataua travel to winless Poroporo, Whakatane Marist re home to Rotoiti and Whakarewarewa travel to the much improved Paroa side.

Draws: www.boprugby.co.nz

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