Hawkes Bay must finally capture title

The Magpies have lost the last two ITM Cup Championship finals, and Brendon O’Connor will be doing everything in his power to make sure that the trend doesn’t continue.

Hawkes Bay has been an expectant side this season with the return of Zach Guilford and the full time services of several Super Rugby players including Ihaia West.

Losing three straight grand finals would be devastating, especially considering the fact that the Ranfurly Shield has also just left Magpie country. With the services of Brad Weber soon to be available, the Bay would love nothing more than having one of the best halfbacks in the world playing in the top division.

Both the Bay, and their opponents Wellington have a both a lot to gain and much to lose depending on the result tonight.

After being relegated down a division, Wellington has shown a marked improvement in 2015, capturing the statistic of being the best defensive side in the competition. Defense wins titles, and even with the strike power of Ardie Savea who will have a chip on his shoulder for not performing when it mattered most during the Hurricanes near championship run, Wellington still find themselves in a position of doubt.

Wellington have a habit of losing the big games in ITM Cup rugby and it has occurred in finals before, namely against Waikato and Canterbury in years gone.

Hawkes Bay is under more pressure, they must win tonight to gain some sort of belief that can go all the way. In front of a packed house at McLean Park, nothing more than victory will be required.

Captain fantastic leads Waikato to Ranfurly Shield

Waikato are the new holders of the Ranfurly Shield after beating Hawkes Bay 36-30 in a thriller.

Credit: Radio Sport

It has been a difficult season for Waikato, but to end as the new Shield holders will provide this young group with a lot of well-earned confidence and it was the young stars that helped get Waikato over the line in a hostile atmosphere in Napier.

Brad Weber scored a hat trick on the way to leading Waikato to victory, but the maturity of Damian McKenzie will be a major talking point as the 20-year old guided the side around the park and put in a monster effort defensively, including one of the best tackles of the year to stop Robbie Fruean from scoring.

Ben Tamiefuna ended his rugby career in New Zealand with a yellow card and it nearly came back to cost Waikato. The prop will now apply his trade in France for Racing Metro.

Young Waikato winger Jordan Trainor showed signs of a bright future ahead on debut, playing a part in two of Weber’s tries.

Waikato will reflect on a difficult season knowing that much potential was lost, but have ended in the best possible way, and now begin their tenth reign as holders of the Ranfurly Shield.

Wellington beat Waikato in crucial encounter

The ITM Cup season is all but over for Waikato after Wellington recovered from a slow start to cruise to a 21-14 win in Hamilton this afternoon.

Credit: 3News

Heading into the encounter requiring a victory to keep their season hopes alive, Waikato struggled at the breakdown and made far too many handling errors. The backline didn’t get enough possession to show its attacking capabilities and Wellington went on to run away with the game in the second half.

Waikato will now regather to selvedge what they can from the season after a few days off before taking on Counties next Friday.

Full story below:

Damian McKenzie put Waikato into the lead with a kick from out in front after Wellington lost possession and then gave away a penalty at the breakdown.

Wellington struggled to get a spark as possession eluded them early.

McKenzie slotted a long-range penalty from inside his own half to give Waikato a 6-0 lead as Wellington couldn’t get their hands on much ball.

Jason Woodward answered back for Wellington with a penalty of his own from just inside Waikato’s half.

Waikato began to lose possession, and Wellington looked more and more composed as their ball movement began to get sorted.

Wellington scored their first try when an obvious forward pass was missed by the referee that allowed Jeremy Thrush to run into an open gap and score his 20th ITM Cup try to put Wellington into the lead.

Woodward’s conversion was successful and Wellington led 10-6.

Waikato were penalised for obstruction, and Woodward kicked Wellington a further three points ahead.

Anton Lienert-Brown broke away downfield as Waikato started a counter attack from deep in their own half but the centre couldn’t link with either of his two receivers and was penalised for holding onto the ball.

Woodward kicked his third penalty of the afternoon and Wellington began to build a commanding lead.

Wellington went into halftime leading 16-6.

Woodward missed a chance to extend Wellington’s lead to beyond ten points when he pushed a penalty attempt wide, but the penalty count kept mounting against Waikato as their season hopes became more and more desperate.

Just as Waikato got down near the try line, slow ball couldn’t take advantage of extra numbers and then possession was lost again.

Wellington sliced through the Waikato defense and surged downfield but Josh Hohneck made a desperate try saving tackle in the corner to keep his side hanging on by a thread.

Offside breakdown play was missed by the referee as Ardie Savea took the ball out and sprinted down field. A super tackle from Shaun Stevenson stopped Savea in his tracks, but Wellington hooker Leni Apisai was waiting to receive the ball and dotted down for the try.

Woodward missed the conversion, but Wellington had a stranglehold on Waikato 21-6 with a quarter of the game to play.

Brad Weber sparked his side into life, picking his way through a gap to surge downfield and put Wellington under pressure. Slow ball didn’t help matters, but Waikato had numbers to burn out wide and Chauncy Edwardson lost the ball on the try line.

Turning down an easy penalty from out in front, but Weber’s ambitious decision paid off when Edwardson made up for his earlier mistake by scoring a late try for Waikato to keep them in the game.

McKenzie struck the post trying to make the conversion. Wellington led 21-11.

Tactic wise a scrum isn’t the worst way to begin an attack deep in enemy territory, but Waikato didn’t have enough time remaining to take too long getting the set play organised. The scrum executed perfectly, but McKenzie decided to put the through ball in for his receivers but his power on the kick was a little too much and Wellington was able to force the ball for a drop out.

Four minutes remained and Waikato looked to attack the corner but were pushed over the touch line and the game was all but lost.

McKenzie managed to secure a token bonus point in the loss, hitting a penalty in overtime, but the season was all but lost.

The full time whistle blew, and Wellington held on for the win 21-14 in Hamilton.

At a glance:

Waikato 14 (Chauncy Edwardson, Damian McKenzie 3 pen)

Wellington 21 (Jeremy Thrush, Leni Apisai, Jason Woodward 3 pen, 1 con)

Tough times for Waikato in ITM Cup

Waikato is up against it as another difficult ITM Cup matchup against Canterbury awaits in Christchurch this evening.

Credit: Planet Rugby

Tough times are at hand for Waikato, both for the side itself and its fans, what happened down in New Plymouth last Friday night was exactly what the headlines read; the worst loss in thirty years.

Thirty years is a long time, most of the players in the squad weren’t even born the last time Waikato were held scoreless in a provincial match.

Stephen Donald failed to have an impact off the bench; but the game was far gone by that stage. Donald will not be available tonight as his hamstring injury continues to trouble; no one really knows what the prognosis is it seems.

Damian McKenzie didn’t have an impact playing at fullback, failing to kick a single goal, and the youngster didn’t seem to have the same threat with running ball, and that came as a big surprise.

The only gripe Waikato can have from the night was when Regan Ware’s try was disallowed.

Down towards the lower end on the Premiership points table; the Mooloos now require wins from their last three games of the season in order to make the finals in October, and two of those need to be bonus point wins.

Depending on what the likes of Taranaki can do for the remainder of the season, Waikato could miss the finals based on points also.

The season thus far has been a story of missed opportunity; this young Waikato side has all the ingredients and should be higher up in the Premiership table.

The loss to Auckland was a blunder, failing to capture a bonus point against Southland left a lot of pressure for the three games in ten days round trip against Taranaki, Canterbury, and then Wellington.

Some of the changes to positions that Sean Botherway made for the Taranaki match must be questioned, and his selections for this week prove it because the first year coach has basically reverted to the old formula of starting Damian McKenzie at first five, bringing Dylan Collier the wing, and moving the exciting Shaun Stevenson back to fullback.

You’d have to think it was something of an experiment; and it didn’t work.  McKenzie in particular has proven form at fullback, Botherway can’t be blamed for that change in particular, but the rest were questionable.

Wharenui Hawera clearly wasn’t the option at first five in the loss to Taranaki, he has far more experience at ITM Cup level playing at fullback and he must slot into this position coming off the bench against Canterbury.

Waikato must win this evening to keep a slight hope of making the ITM Cup finals alive, nothing more than a win can help this young side from here.

Dreadful Waikato suffer worst loss in thirty years

Waikato has been humiliated in New Plymouth; being held scoreless for the first time in 30 years as Taranaki ran away to a dominant 41-0 victory.

Credit: Mooloo

Five converted tries and two penalties from a superior Taranaki side embarrassed Waikato all night long.

It was the first time the Mooloos have been held scoreless in a match since 1985; a year that most players in the Waikato squad were not even born.

Waikato’s chances of making the finals of ITM Cup have taken a major hit as Taranaki continue their impressive fight back in the premiership.

Co-captain Brad Weber withdrew from the match with illness, and his leadership was greatly missed.

Taranaki got out to an early 3-0 lead thanks to the boot of Codey Rei after Josh Hohneck was penalized for a high tackle as Waikato defended early.

Damian McKenzie didn’t quite have enough distance on a penalty attempt from halfway after Taranaki’s first scrum collapsed. Taranaki looked dangerous in the midfield, but a lapse in communication between Marty McKenzie and Seta Tamanivalu cost Taranaki a chance to score against a stretched Waikato defense.

Regan Ware was denied a try off his first touch when the referee went upstairs to check if their had been a knock on.

Replays showed that the loose ball had bounced off the knee of a Waikato player, despite no hands being involved, it was ruled a knock on and Waikato were forced to sacrifice their try.

Rei extended Taranki’s lead to 6-0 after Waikato were penalized for offside.

Sparking a counter attack on the halfway line, Taranki had the Waikato defense on its heels and a kick ahead made the bounce critical. A poor effort to snap up the ball saw Charlie Ngatai find the ball in his hands and the centre had enough to power over for Taranaki’s first try.

Rei converted and Taranaki were out to a 13-0 lead.

With two minutes remaining in the half, Taranaki had an attacking lineout and a strong breakaway off the throw saw Waikato scramble to their line. Tamanivalu took the ball from the back of the breakdown and reached over to score.

Rei converted and Taranki lead 20-0 at halftime.

Taranaki kept the head on after the break, and when Waikato turned the ball over they were pushed over their own goal line to hand Taranaki an attacking scrum.

Angus Ta’avao scored Taranki’s third try and the game was quickly becoming beyond the visitors. Rei converted and Taranaki led 27-0.

The game was becoming increasingly agro with fights beginning to breakout, Loni Uhila was cautioned for punching Charlie Ngatai, and the two brothers on opposing teams Damian and Marty McKenzie were becoming increasingly feisty off the ball.

Stephen Donald entered the field for Waikato at the 53rd minute, continuing his return to NZ Rugby after four years away.

Sean Wainui scored Taranaki’s bonus point try after an aimless kick from McKenzie set Tamanivalu in space before the handoff. The score was 34-0 and Waikato was now playing to try and get a single point on the board.

Waikato turned the ball over for the 18th time as one of their worst performances in history continued.

Hika Elliot put the icing on the cake, powering over the line with his teammates pushing him on, and Taranaki rounded out one of their best ever performances, beating Waikato 41-0 at Yarrow Stadium.

Waikato will play Canterbury next Wednesday in Christchurch.

Surprise selections in Mooloos squad

The Mooloos have named their squad for what promises to be a crucial ITM Cup match against Taranaki in New Plymouth on Friday night.

Wharenui Hawera will start at first five in a surprise selection by coach Sean Botherway as ITM Cup joint point leading scorer Damian McKenzie moves to fullback for the first time this season.

The selection of Hawera has come as a surprise to many.

Hawera has only come off the bench twice for Waikato this season after returning from two separate broken arms playing club rugby this year.

McKenzie himself has admitted he doesn’t mind playing at either fullback or first five, but given the current scintillating form the 20-year old is in; some Waikato fans would say that the switch is a gamble heading into such a crucial encounter against Taranaki.

Stephen Donald is still suffering from a niggling hamstring injury and has been bracketed on the bench but it won’t be known if he can play until Friday.

Declan O’Donnell is out with a broken finger, giving exciting Old Boys winger Regan Ware his first opportunity for Waikato this year after a strong club season.

Waikato face a tough period ahead in ITM Cup with three games in nine days including an assignment against Canterbury down in Christchurch before returning home to play Wellington.

A win in at least one of these games is going to be crucial if Waikato want to make the finals but Sean Botherway will be expecting his side to be more than competitive in the two away matches against tough opposition.

Waikato currently sits fifth on the ITM Cup points ladder for the premiership division.

The Mooloos squad vs Taranaki:

  1. Loni Uhila (15)
  2. Hame Faiva (16)
  3.   Josh Hohneck (21)
  4. James Tucker (5)
  5. David Morgan (9)
  6. Whetu Douglas [co-captain] (19)
  7. Zane Kapeli (15)
  8. Adam Burn (21)
  9. Brad Weber [co-captain] (22)
  10. Wharenui Hawera (20)
  11. Shaun Stevenson (5)
  12. Jordan Payne (13)
  13. Anton Lienert-Brown (14)
  14. Regan Ware (7)
  15. Damian McKenzie (15)
  1. Tyrone Te Ruruku (1)
  2. Atu Moli (3)
  3. Ben Tameifuna (17)
  4. Josh Tyrell (12)
  5. Murray Iti (3)
  6. Harrison Levien (2)
  7. Stephen Donald (58) / Chauncy Edwardson (3)
  8. Dylan Collier (10)

Mooloos survive Southland comeback

Waikato has survived a late comeback by Southland to win 30-25 in dramatic fashion at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton tonight.

Credit: Zimbio

The Mooloos can thank Damian McKenzie for his strongest showing yet, maintaining a perfect kicking record and slotting a crucial penalty in the dying seconds to take the Waikato lead out to beyond a penalty.

Waikato ran in three tries, including the second in a week for co-captain Brad Weber, but Southland, to their credit, never gave up and came racing back in the last quarter to nearly snatch victory.

The win is crucial for Waikato and a good bounce back from a disappointing performance last week. Waikato now move up in the ITM Cup Premiership points table.

Waikato tried to play the territory game early in the wet conditions before Elliot Dixon was penalised for tackling Weber too early, but the Stags were let off the hook when the Waikato lineout went awry.

Southland couldn’t clear, and after a second penalty, Waikato opted to keep on the attack with a scrum.

Some good defense kept the Mooloos out as Southland made their tackles, but a third penalty saw Damian McKenzie put the home side up by three.

Jacob Skeen took a knock as Southland immediately went on the attack; the lock was replaced by David Morgan and Skeen went down the tunnel for a concussion test.

Southland had a man unmarked with a clear run to the corner, but Tim Boys couldn’t catch the pass and the try went begging.

Awarded a penalty; Southland drew even thanks to the boot of Lima Sopoaga.

McKenzie sparked an attack from deep in his own half when Southland kicked away possession. The 20-year old cut through the midfield and passed the ball off to James Tucker in support. Tucker was cut down near the try line, ruining what was nearly Waikato’s second runaway try in a week.

McKenzie landed his second penalty of the night to nudge Waikato in front 6-3, and became the leading points scorer in ITM Cup this season so far.

With an advantage and hot on attack, Weber put up a hopeful up and under but weighted the kick perfectly. Sloppy hands from the Southland defender saw the ball come free, and Declan O’Donnell pounced to score the try.

McKenzie converted; Waikato led 13-3.

The Stags were awarded a penalty, and Sopoaga had the distance from halfway to bring Southland closer.

Waikato held a small lead 13-6 at halftime.

The Mooloo men went on the attack as play resumed, pushing downfield with multiple phases before a handling error out wide ended the move. Waikato remained in Southland territory, and Weber took advantage of broken play, penetrating the gap tiny gap and breaking free. Weber was no match for the defense and raced away for the try.

Following McKenzie’s conversion, Waikato led 20-6.

Southland tried to answer back but coughed up possession deep in Waikato’s half. Opting not to take a kick at goal, Southland took play into the corner with an attacking lineout. A handling error ruined the set play, but Waikato being offside handed Southland another penalty.

The Stags secured the ball from the scrum and Lima Sopoaga kicked into the corner, the Waikato defenders weren’t back enough, the ball bounced perfectly into the hands of Keanu Kahukura for the try.

Sopoaga failed to convert, but the Stags were within nine points in Hamilton, 20-11 with a quarter of the game to play.

Waikato answered right back with a try of their own, Dylan Collier scoring his third try in ITM Cup rugby, and Waikato’s third of the night. McKenzie converted again; Waikato led 27-11.

Southland knocked the ball on inside their own half and began to lose their structure as the pressure mounted.

With time ticking away; the Southland forward pushed toward the try line and powered over, but replays couldn’t show clear evidence of a grounding by Dillan Halaholo, however the try was awarded.

Sopoaga converted to make the score 27-18.

Waikato surged after Southland failed to secure the kick off, and in the corner it looked as if Tyrone Te Ruruku had scored, but the referee consulted the TMO for further clarification. Replays showed the replacement hooker was short but there was a question of momentum.

The try wasn’t awarded, and Southland had a penalty as

After four years away from New Zealand Rugby since his famous kick in the 2011 RWC final, Stephen Donald jogged onto the field to a loud applause by the hearty souls at the stadium on a cold and wet night.

Southland were suddenly full of life, and old mistakes on defense from the previous game began to haunt Waikato. Southland capitalised quickly, Kieran Moffat touching down in the corner to bring the score closer again.

Sopoaga converted, and the game was on in Hamilton; 27-25 with five minutes remaining.

Southland were hot on attack, and Waikato were falling off tackles as the visitors charged downfield looking destined to score. Some brilliant work at the breakdown earned Waikato a penalty, and McKenzie cleared Waikato’s line to ease the pressure and keep possession.

Southland were penalised with a minute to play, and Weber gave the ball to McKenzie to kick for goal.

McKenzie didn’t miss, maintaining a perfect record to give Waikato a crucial buffer of five points.

The final hooter sounded as Sopoaga kicked off, and Waikato secured possession to allow Weber to bang the ball away into touch and seal victory for the Mooloos 30-25 at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton.

Waikato will face Taranaki next Friday in New Plymouth.

Auckland fightback to thrash Waikato

Auckland has blown past Waikato in Hamilton this afternoon, comprehensively winning 50-28 after surging back in the second half.

Credit: Zimbio

The Mooloos were left to rue a game that simply got away from them; leading at halftime after scoring a brilliant 100-metre runaway try that was arguably the highlight of the ITM Cup so far, only to fall off the rails with a less than average defensive showing in the second half.

In total, Auckland scored 33 points after halftime to Waikato’s 7, showing just how much of a turn around the game took after the break.

Simon Hickey missed an early chance to put Auckland in the lead from a kick close to halfway.

Damian McKenzie scored in the corner after sucking in a defender and penetrating the small gap with his speed to put the Mooloos in front. It was McKenzie’s second try in the regular season, and the young first five converted his own try and Waikato led 7-0 in the early stages.

The Waikato defense did a good job of keeping the dangerous Auckland backline contained in the early stages, shutting down Charles Piutau and George Moala on multiple occasions.

Auckland strung phases together and setup a driving maul off an attacking lineout. The power of the Auckland forward pack pushed closer to the line, and after consulting the TMO, replays showed that Michael Faltialofa had scored a try.

Hickey converted to level the scores.

Akira Ioane broke through the tackle of James Tucker to set himself into space with no Waikato defenders back.

Kaito Shigeno caught the offload as Waikato scrambled back in defense and scored under the posts.

Auckland had a lead of seven following the conversion.

A seventh penalty against Waikato gifted Auckland three points, and the visitors were out to a ten-point lead.

Brad Weber struck at a crucial time for Waikato after a quick tap out in front, and after McKenzie converted, the Mooloos were back to within three points.

As the halftime siren sounded, Waikato turned desperate defense into a remarkable try.

From their own goal line, Weber ripped the ball out of the ruck, and some determined running from Skeen and Tucker kept the counter attack alive. Anton Leinert-Brown broke away, and Tucker found the ball in his hands again, quickly offloaded back to McKenzie, and Leinert-Brown took the offload to score the try.

Akira Ioane was sent to the sinbin for lifting a Waikato player off his feet and planting him down off the ball.

Waikato ran 100-metres to score what was one of the best tries in ITM Cup history.

McKenzie converted and Waikato led at halftime 21-17.

Waikato kept the pressure on early in the second half, Weber broke out from the back of a scrum but had no support. McKenzie nearly caught Auckland napping when he tapped from a penalty and booted the ball downfield, forcing Bryce Heem to track back quickly.

The Mooloos looked more and more likely to score, and an attacking scrum near the line provided ample opportunity, but Auckland had other ideas.

Bryce Heem finally stepped past a Waikato defender and broke away for 60-metres, Waikato couldn’t scramble back in time, Ben Lam powered over for a crucial try for Auckland.

Hickey converted and Auckland pushed back into the lead 24-21.

Waikato began to fall off tackles as Auckland surged downfield again, and Taleni Seu punished the Mooloos defense that came up too quickly off the line, scoring under the posts, and suddenly Auckland had a commanding lead 31-21.

It didn’t take long for Auckland to score again, taking full advantage of poor numbers of defense out wide, and Melani Nanai was in for Auckland’s bonus point try.

A sneaky inside pass from McKenzie set Waikato into space, and Shaun Stevenson was unmarked to score a much-needed try. McKenzie just managed to convert from the sideline, providing some hope for Waikato but Auckland still led by ten points.

Hickey missed a penalty kick from in front that would have sealed the match for Auckland.

With an attacking scrum, and after successive phases of attack, George Moala broke the Waikato defense, sealing the match in the process. The conversion was unsuccessful but Auckland was home and dry.

Mitchell Hunt put the nail in the coffin on fulltime, scoring his first ITM Cup try.

The final siren sounded, and Auckland win convincingly 50-28 in Hamilton.

Waikato destroy Bay of Plenty in Tauranga

It was one of the finest performances by the Mooloos in recent memory as Waikato thrashed Bay of Plenty 43-10 in Tauranga this afternoon.

James Tucker. Credit: Mooloo NZ

Bay of Plenty captain Cullum Retallick labeled his sides’ performance as disgraceful after going down six tries to one.

Retallick was clearly dejected post match, “pretty embarrassed that the community got behind us and we couldn’t deliver,” Retallick said.

Bay of Plenty were never in the match, a Waikato side dominant throughout with some scintillating rugby in all areas.

Dan Hollinshead opened the scoring for the Steamers when Ben Tamiefuna was penalized for not rolling away; but it would go on to be the only points Bay of Plenty would notch for over 70-minutes.

With an attacking scrum near the 22-meter line, Brad Weber broke away but lost his footing before he could get rid off the ball. Stringing phases together, Damian McKenzie stepped through the line, and when Weber slung to ball out to Joe Webber on the wing, some desperate defense kept Waikato out again.

Refusing to die, Waikato kept possession on attack and Declan O’Donnell broke away with speed and had Weber on the inside unmarked, and the Mooloos co captain ran away for the try.

McKenzie converted and Waikato led 7-3.

A massive hit on defense gave Waikato an advantage, and a series of inch by inch plays, Michael Mayhew powered through the ruck and scored.

McKenzie converted again; Waikato led 14-3.

Ben Tamiefuna played a big part in the two early tries for Waikato, redeeming himself for a silly penalty in the opening moments of the game.

Cullum Retallick was given ten minutes on the sideline for not retreating when Waikato took a free tap to try and counter attack.

The Steamers were lucky to concede just three points while a man down, McKenzie slotting his third of the day after a penalty at scrum time.

Brad Weber scored his second try of the first half, sprinting past the Bay of Plenty defense to finish an attack that was set up from nothing by Damian McKenzie.

At halftime, Waikato led 24-3.

The Steamers tried to spark into life as the second half began, but multiple phases came to nothing when they we penalized for holding on.

James Tucker snuck through the defense and gained good meters, but scrappy execution had Bay of Plenty breathing a sigh of relief. Loni Uhila put in two massive hits to silence an increasingly desperate Bay of Plenty attack.

Weber almost set himself up for a third try, creating space and streaking away but failed to find McKenzie in support.

Waikato scored their fourth, and earned a bonus point, when an offload from James Tucker set Jordan Payne free, the midfielder scoring a rare try as the onslaught continued. McKenzie continued a perfect afternoon with the boot, and Waikato had a hold on the game 31-3.

Joe Webber left the field with an injury as play got back underway.

Zane Kapeli capitalized on a good gain by Dylan Collier and Waikato scored another try, growing the lead to a dominant 36-3 with a quarter of the match still to play.

Tim Bond came off second best trying to tackle Uhila, becoming the second casualty for the Steamers trying to cut down the charging Mooloos prop.

Bryn Gatland finally made his debut for Waikato in the 65th minute, replacing Shaun Stevenson, and Welsh coach Warren Gatland was no doubt looking on as his son carried on a successful rugby family’s presence in New Zealand rugby.

Harrison Levien made his debut shortly after, replacing Weber in the halfback role.

After over 70-minites of toil, Joe Tupe finally got a try for Bay of Plenty, giving his side some respectability on the scoreboard, a just reward for sticking with attack despite the game being lost well before time.

James Tucker, perhaps the most deserving man on the park, scored late in the piece for Waikato, putting the stamp on an impressive performance that lit up the Mooloos throughout.

The fulltime hooter sounded, and Waikato won 43-10 at the Tauranga Domain.

Waikato hold off Manawatu fightback

Waikato has notched a crucial early-season win over Manawatu 28-21 in Palmerston North this afternoon.

Manwatu fightback against Waikato. Credit: Perform Group

The win puts the Mooloos back on track after a loss in week one.

Performing much more comprehensively in all areas. Waikato utilized their backline and benefit from two great impact performances by returning All Blacks Liam Messam and Tawera Kerr-Barlow.

Discipline was again a concern for the Mooloos in the victory.

Manawatu showed that they are never out of a match, coming back to nearly clinch a late victory.

Shaun Stevenson wasted no time picking up from where he left off in the last game, stepping past four Manawatu defenders to score in the corner with just over a minute on the clock.

McKenzie missed the conversion, but Waikato was out to an early lead.

Manawatu was penalised for not rolling away, then McKenzie put the Mooloos eight points in front with a kick from close to halfway.

Manawatu looked shaky early on, falling off a couple of tackles but the Mooloos kept up the early pressure, passing the ball around, and bringing the backline into the game.

McKenzie took Waikato out to an 11-point lead, slotting his second penalty.

Laim Messam showed how important his experience can be for the young Mooloos side, forcing a turnover after a brilliant counter-ruck.

Manawatu fullback Hamiora Thomas was sent to the sin bin for deliberately knocking down the ball when Waikato had a clean break and a free player out wide.

It didn’t take Waikato long to score with an extra man on the park.

Going down in the tackle, Loni Uhila reached over the try line and planted the ball down on the turf, handing Waikato their second try. After McKenzie converted, Waikato had a big lead of 18-0 with a quarter of the match gone.

Pushed for the first time on defense, Waikato was lucky to not be caught on the left after rushing up quickly.

A prolonged period of attack saw Manawatu begin to dominate possession and territory after Jordan Payne was sent to the sin bin for illegally stripping the ball.Waikato were backed up on their try line but their defense was strong and held out the attack.

At halftime, Waikato led 18-0 at Arena Manawatu.

Waikato were immediately on the attack after the break, but when Messam knocked on, Manawatu counter attacked and a brilliantly weighted kick on the break by Jason Emery setup Manawatu’s first try.

Otere Black converted and the score was 18-7.

Just after getting back to a full playing XV, Waikato were a man down again when Tawera Kerr-Barlow was sent to the sin bin for an illegal knockdown.

Kerr-Barlow would have been kicking himself after an impressive showing prior.

Fraser Armstrong powered over the line, breaking down three Waikato defenders to score Manawatu’s second. Black’s conversion saw the Waikato lead cut to just four.

As they did in round one, Manawatu showed that they are capable of coming back from large deficits and had all the momentum.

Damian McKenzie gave Waikato some breathing room, slotting a penalty to make the score 21-14.

Waikato got a little too ambitious in their own half, McKenzie threw his third forward pass of the game to hand possession to Manawatu on the try line, but Manawatu knocked on and the opportunity went begging.

Good kicking from McKenzie and Weber shifted the game back down onto the Manawatu try line.

McKenzie slicked through the last line of Manawatu defense to score and all but put the game beyond the home side. Following the conversion, Waikato was out to a 14-point lead with the last period of the game remaining.

It was McKenzie’s first try in regular season ITM Cup competition.

Manwatu inched closer with a Nathan Tudreu sideline tippy toe, grounding the ball down, and after sending the decision upstairs, the try was awarded.

On the sideline, Black struck the kick perfectly to bring the deficit back to seven.

A certain try was lost for Manawatu when Black’s pass flew over the head of a free receiver, but Waikato were not out of the woods when Declan O’Donnell was tackled near his own try line as the Mooloos struggled to clear.

One last chance with running ball presented itself to Manawatu and the Turbos opted for an attacking scrum ten metres out. Moving forward with the ball, Manawatu came within inches of scoring, but the ball became trapped in the ruck.

The referee blew his whistle, and the game was over.

Waikato narrowly held on to be 28-21 winners in round two ITM Cup action over Manawatu.