The search for improvement will continue for leading premier rugby side New Plymouth Old Boys on Saturday, despite their collection of maximum competition points from every game they’ve played.
Old Boys will host Spotswood United in the CMK feature match of the week at Vogeltown Park having ended the first round having won and scored at least five tries against every opponent.
In total they have crossed the tryline 39 times. That’s 14 more tries than any other side has managed, including Saturday’s opponent, while the closest any opposition side has come from beating them was when Clifton staged a rousing comeback to get within six points.
Despite their impressive run through the first seven weeks of the competition, Old Boys co-coach Phil Mitchell insists they have plenty of issues to address if they are to make it back-to-back titles.
“We were very happy with the first round but there is still a lot to work on,” he said. “But the first round does not count for a hell of a lot, unfortunately, so while we’re happy with where we are at, there is a long way to go and a lot to do.”
Pressed on what were priorities, Mitchell said it was getting everyone on the “same page” on how they had to play given injuries, like the vast majority of sides, were starting to bite.
Old Boys will start the match without regular hooker Caleb Mawson who has taken a week off to get over a niggly knee injury, while openside flanker Lachlan Boshier, who scored three tries against Southern last week, has not been released.
Mitchell said representative prop Reuben O’Neill was expected to finally make his comeback after months on the sideline with an Achilles injury but a bout of the flu had kept him away for another week.
His return would shore up their scrum, an area the co-coach said had not always been performing as well as they would have liked.
“The ruck is a constant work-on and something we look closely at every week.”
Although they were clearly the superior team in round one, Mitchell did not believe they were well ahead of the chasing pack.
“All the teams we have come up against have more than had their moments against us, so I don;t think there is that big a gulf to be honest. We’ve managed to get some bonus points, which has been a point of difference, but outside of that I think all the teams are close this year.”
As for Spotswood United, Mitchell thought the most important thing for Old Boys to concentrate on was their defence which he said must stop their opponents’ ball runners, especially close to the ruck.
Spotswood United co-coach Rhys Connell said they too were struggling with injuries, the latest of which has seen hooker Sione Sifa and wing David Philander scratched for the season.
Still, he thought they could be more than competitive if they managed to hold on to the ball, avoid quick turnovers and showed more patience in their play.
“We know we are going to have to play to the best of our potential to beat them but I certainly don’t think they are unbeatable,” he said.
“If we can stick to our game plan, put some phases together then I think we can put them under pressure. We know they are really good at holding on to the ball and sticking to their plans so we have to make sure we can match that.”
Elsewhere, Clifton face an uphill battle to repeat their opening week victory over Tukapa when they head to Sanders Park.
The two sides have had contrasting times since that match with Tukapa winning five of their next six matches while Clifton could only manage a solidary win over bottom placed Inglewood.
Clifton have not struggled to score points, especially in the last fortnight, but their defence has been sub-standard as Spotswood United and Stratford scored a combined 13 tries against them.
If Clifton can sort that out then they certainly have to the potential to push Tukapa close.
Southern sneaked past Inglewood by a solitary point in the opening week, although they would take that result if only to break a run of two straight losses in the last fortnight.
Inglewood appear unmoved in the way they want to play while Southern might be looking to play with more structure.
The remaining game between Stratford and Coastal is almost the most interesting. Stratford probably punched above their weight in the first round while Coastal scrapped to some ugly wins while they were under manned.
Just which team comes out on top at Victoria Park looks too close to call.
At a glance
NEW PLYMOUTH OLD BOYS v
Saturday at 2.45pm, Vogeltown Park
Referee: Cam Stone
NPOB: Logan Rei, Jack Carrington, Sione Ahokava, Daniel Waite, Shaan Waite, Liam McBride (c), David Ormrod, Hamish Alabaster, Thomas McElroy, Fin Hoeata, Trent Sutton, Dean Stewart, Mitch O’Neill, Willie McBride, Blake Morgan. Reserves, James Wilson, Sean McKerrow, Hamish Mitchell, Sam Frame, Michael Rubick, Josh Rei, Cody Rei.
SPOTSWOOD UTD: Josh Hamilton (c), Josh Perrett, Tyrone Ngaluafe, Mitch Williams, Nick Arnold, Nick Standen, Byron McDermott, Shohei Sitayama, Tristian Lahmert, Issac Meo, Micaiah Torrance-Read, Blake Irving, Bradley Chubb, Paul Hooper, Jared Proffit. Reserves, Joel Perrett, Daniel Cox or Chris McCullough, Watru Niimoto, Gareth Maulder, Yohei Nakamura, Chey Wells, Michael Winter.