Heroics & Heartbreak: Uncompromising Honesty

Heroics and Heartbreak is a brave and astute observation of all things All Blacks, and maybe a book that the higher-ups should care to read.

I have to admit, I didn’t read Brothers in Black, the first book Jamie Wall wrote.

But over a coffee in September 2019, Wall tells me he is working on another book, basically an “inside look” into life on the road with the All Blacks as told by the perspective of a journalist covering them.

Ok, sold, and I immediately politely requested a signed copy upon release.

I wanted to get my hands on this, not just because I know Jamie, I’ve worked alongside him and I’m a fan of his work, but I also knew that with his writing ability and uncompromising search for transparency, this would be a book that tackled some of the issues all of us on the rugby journalism scene had talked about in one way or another.

And that’s exactly what Wall delivers with Heroics and Heartbreak, a book about New Zealand’s top brand and what it’s like work with them every day. News flash, it’s not always great.

On the back of Heroics and Heartbreak, you read the following question: What happened to the All Blacks at the 2019 Rugby World Cup?

Wall, now one of New Zealand’s best journalists and a two-time rugby author, might not capture the complete answer to that question, but his year-long tale does indeed tell a fascinating story.

The real strength of what Wall has put together in this, a 368-page diary, is a great insight into life as a journalist covering the All Blacks. At its most basic level, this is the story, twined together well with astute observations that range from experiences that were clearly both a mixture of enjoyable and downright frustrating for Wall.

As a sports journalist myself, and having worked with the All Blacks on a handful of occasions, some of the points that Wall makes didn’t surprise me in the slightest. Frankly, as a participant in this industry, I found that side of Heroics and Heart Break to be far more interesting. But Wall isn’t just a journalist, he’s a damn good storyteller and something of a budding historian.

What you get with Heroics and Heart Break isn’t just a book targeted at readers with an interest in the media industry, either.

My assumption is that Wall really wanted to paint the picture of a team (perhaps even a sport) that is wildly complex, conservative and in dire need of a new approach.

Perhaps the selling point of the story is in Chapter 43, The State of the Union, when Wall discusses his observations when attending a Mitre 10 Cup game between Auckland and Canterbury where he finds empty stands, little to no media coverage and a generally lifeless atmosphere at a game that was once one of the big days on the New Zealand Rugby calendar.

Not unheard of, but brave for a journalist with many connections at NZ Rugby to come out and talk about that.

Also brave was pulling no punches in his description of “the worst crowd ever” that attended the 16-all draw between the All Blacks and Springboks in Wellington, the native home city for Wall, or his reaction to the Steve Hansen meltdown post RWC 2019 semifinal.

That’s the real strength of this book, the bravery in which it was written. As the All Blacks megabrand heads into a new era, it may take brave thinking similar brave thinking in order to address what are becoming problems that the union can no longer avoid.

MY RATING: 7/10

Climbed Over At All Blacks (Diaries Of A Disabled Journalist)

The Diaries of a Disabled Journalist, Edition One.

It’s Friday, June 10th 2016 and I’m about to get climbed over at my first ever All Blacks press conference. 

Eden Park’s glorious grandstands are completely empty. It feels like a ghost town as I roll across the hallowed turf in my wheelchair. We come out of the west side tunnel and negotiate our way to the middle of the field. It’s just me, an NZ Rugby official and a couple of overseas journalists, presumably here covering the Welsh tour.

Wow, I think to myself, I’m actually on the field at Eden Park.

It starts to rain so I retreat under the stands and it’s not until I’m parked that I discover I’m actually in the players’ tunnel. This time tomorrow, All Blacks players, television crews and security will be everywhere and I won’t be allowed anywhere near this close to the action. I decide to make the most of it and take a nervous look around.

Unlike tomorrow, there is nothing here right now, it feels just as lifeless as it did out on the field. A few cables line the green matted floor, to each side of the tunnel there are two long corridors which lead to the respective dressing rooms where the All Blacks and Wales rugby players will preside.

Wales are already here, but only just a couple of their kickers and an assistant coach. I say to hell with the rain and head back down the tunnel and out onto the field. Dan Biggar, the Welsh first five, is taking practice shots at goal so I park next to the sideline and take a few photos and one poorly shot iPhone video of his routine.

Then it’s time for the first interview of the day, with the Welsh assistant coach.

It’s about 11.00 am, I’ve been up since 6.00 am and in work mode since around 9.00 am. The 90-minute drive up the Waikato expressway from Hamilton is spent writing my first story of the day on my portable table, lodged between the front of my wheelchair and locks which hold me in place.

Today’s first story is a preview piece focusing on how Wales will go against the All Blacks. By the time I get to Eden Park, all that needs to be added is quotes from the impending interview, and as expected, the little that the Welsh assistant coach actually says doesn’t derail the tone of the story and force a total rewrite.

From there, the few of us journos who bothered to show up are then directed into an underground holding room back on the west side of the ground. Inside it’s cold, empty and certainly no sign of food or hot drink. This doesn’t go down well considering it’s the middle of winter and very cold.

I take the nearest available desk and begin scrolling Google Images for a decent photo of the Welsh assistant coach we just spoke to.

Unlike my counterparts, I don’t work for a mainstream media organisation so I don’t get the benefit of accessing the library of professional photos that were just taken from the practice session we just saw. I find the most recent and best-looking image I can find, add the quotes into the WordPress article draft and hit “submit for review” where I hope an editor in the US or Europe finds it quickly.

That hope is disappointed, the story doesn’t get published until later that afternoon, well after my mainstream media peers have already had theirs go live. Oh well, I think to myself, their work is probably going to get more views anyway and this is really an opportunity to practice my craft.

It’s now around 12.30 pm and we now have to wait for the big event of the day, the All Blacks captains run where we get to interview the new skipper, Kieran Read.

The term “holding room” to describe where the media contingent was placed is indeed accurate, and after nearly two hours of work and the occasional stop for chatter, we all begin making jokes about being animals locked in an enclosure until feeding time.

The feed we seek, of course, is that big interview with the new All Blacks captain and we all have a list of questions we all desperately hope to fire at him.

Another hour goes by, and finally, we are let out of the enclosure. The All Blacks are on the field, training intensely. Most of us have our eyes locked on that, but a turn to your left and you notice that the stand is scattered with members of the public who’ve been given the opportunity to come along and watch the final practice before the match. This scattering features kids, parents and a whole lot of sponsors. A Japanese group is lucky enough to have even closer seats to the action, they’re down on the field with us and currently huddled around Sam Whitelock as he practices some scrum work.

Julian Savea, the powerful All Black winger who has so often been compared to the likes of Jonah Lomu, runs over to retrieve a ball that lands close to me. Bloody hell, I think to myself, he’s a bloody big unit but his intensity in the face is about as confronting as his physical stature. He doesn’t take his eye off the ball for a single second as his ranging arm comes down and scoops the ball up. I smile and nod at him, but he doesn’t notice. Just looking at those eyes you can tell, even at training, he’s in the zone.

I see little of the training on field because the media contingent, now sizeably bigger than before, has set up shop with their cameras and I don’t have a hope of wedging my wheelchair into the line. Balls are flying everywhere, the kids in the stands are yelling and cameras are flashing. It’s an absolute hive of activity.

“Hey Joe,” I say, “can you please let me know when Kieran is coming over so I can get in position?” I ask quietly to the media manager. He smiles, “sure mate I will let you know”.

Joe, being the man responsible for setting up the media conference and the guy who brings the All Black captain over to us journalists, doesn’t let me know. Out of sheer luck, I spot Kieran walking over and race toward where he’s headed. I park at the front of the media pack, directly behind all the microphones that are already set up.

Kieran walks over, smiles at me and says hello, then the interview begins.

One journalist literally climbs over the side of my wheelchair in an attempt to get closer to Kieran. “Excuse me mate”, he says as he manoeuvres himself over me. He stands directly in front me after that and all chances of getting a decent photo and video are gone.

A second journalist does the exact same thing a minute, and then a third. It’s more than a little belittling, but I’m so caught up in the moment that it didn’t actually register how disrespectful and downright discriminatory that was.

I have it on good authority from NZ Rugby that up until that point they’d never had someone in a wheelchair as part of the media pack before. It is just as much of a learning opportunity for them, and as much as something like that would enrage a lot of disabled people, I take it on the chin and make the best of the interview with Kieran that I can.

In fact, I even manage to ask a question of the man tasked with arguably the toughest job in New Zealand sport. It made the early rise, the ordeal of sitting in the holding room and the frustration of being climbed over, all worth it.

After that, I’m back in the van and we are heading back down the expressway to home. But work is far from over. My laptop is open and I am doing two things at once as we hurtle out of Mt Eden and greater Auckland.

Firstly, I plug in the recorder and begin listening back to what Kieran had to say, typing quotes into a word document. After I’ve picked four quotes, I begin writing the story. At the same time, I’m on Twitter posting photos and quotes from Kieran onto my timeline, looking at what other media outlets are doing just in case I’ve missed any crucial details, and I’m also texting a New Zealand-based editor to see how quickly he can get the story online.

By the time we hit Mercer, a small town south of Auckland, the story is done and ready for editorial.

Two stories, check, but a third is yet to come. I need to turn both these stories, the Welsh angle and the All Blacks angle, into a column that needs to be online tomorrow morning. We get back to Hamilton just before 7.00 pm, I quickly go to the bathroom and then eat, before opening up another word document and typing that crucial third story.

I finish writing at 10.00 pm. Sleep isn’t just easy, it’s automatic.

Kiwis World Cup Explosion A Long Time In Coming

The Rugby League World Cup is over for the Kiwis, but no one should be surprised at the shock result to Fiji. 

It’s baffling to see how Adam Blair, the captain of the Kiwis, can stand in front of a nation and say that the result isn’t a negative for the side. Because the result is beyond negative, it’s near disgraceful. For as good as Fiji were to hold onto the slim 4-2 win, the amount of basic mistakes the Kiwis made was a sign of a team not in sync as a unit. Furthermore, it was a sign of the chickens finally coming home to roost for league in this country.

Moments after those comments by the captain, Kiwi coach David Kidwell took aim at the New Zealand public, saying that he’d only accept criticism from supporters who bothered to show up to games. Then it was the captains turn again, this time Blair saying that the side deserved more credit than what was being given in the aftermath of the shock result.

All in all, the World Cup campaign which had started out so promisingly fell of a cliff and exploded at the bottom.

Kiwis World Cup Explosion A Long Time In Coming

The reason why this happened to the Kiwis starts with New Zealand Rugby League in general. For all the problems the Warriors have had in recent years, the Kiwis began to show similar cracks in their culture earlier this year when two senior players were busted for cocaine use in the hours after a Test against Australia. From there, the knives were out, and both players were axed from the World Cup.

Can you blame the New Zealand public for not having a lot of faith in this side? Culture issues aside, just look at the results in recent times. Mediocre at best, and that might be giving too much credit. Outside of the Kiwis, the Warriors have been less than inconsistent and have themselves had some major culture issues, many of which have driven some of the long-term leaders at the club away.

And for Adam Blair, the so-called captain of this side, here is a man who clearly preferred to keep his true feelings toward the situation well-hidden. PR training or not, comments such as the ones made last night show a true disconnect with the reality of what was, and forever will be, one of the darkest days in Kiwis league history.

That’s what it will be remembered for.

McKenzie Breaks Century Record As Chiefs Thrash Brumbies

The Chiefs have broken a long losing-streak in Canberra dating back to 2008, punishing the Brumbies 58-23 tonight.

Dave Rennie’s men punished the Brumbies who went into the match as Super Rugby’s best defensive team, and closest-rivals to the Chiefs on the points table.

The Chiefs ran in six tries, including a double for James Lowe on the wing, and it was nothing short of punishing, a performance fitting of a team that deserves its place on top of the Super Rugby ladder.

Lowe’s two tries puts him into the top tier of players to dot over the line in 2016, but it was the wingers ability to kick into space and put the Chiefs deep into Brumbies territory that was equally as impressive. Continue reading McKenzie Breaks Century Record As Chiefs Thrash Brumbies

Controversial Call As Lions Beat Chiefs 36-32

The Chiefs have narrowly missed out on victory for the second week in a row, losing a controversial nail biter to the Lions 36-32.

A crowd of over 15,000 at FMG Stadium Waikato in Hamilton willed their team on, but a high penalty count and superior Lions physicality across saw the Chiefs constantly chasing the game.

Dave Rennie’s men tried until the final siren, where a controversial penalty by referee Andrew Lees, saw the Lions escape with the win after the Chiefs stormed back into the game in the second half.

It was the second straight win for the Lions, and the second week in a row that the Chiefs have struggled in the set piece and at scrum time.

The full story:

The Chiefs took the early lead thanks to the boot of Damian McKenzie, but the Lions answered back when Elton Jantjies landed a kick of his own.

Jantjies put the Lions in front with his second three thanks to the Chiefs being offside in the ruck.

Loose-forward Tom Sanders scored his first try in Super Rugby to put the Chiefs back in the lead 8-6.

The try was thanks large in part to a dashing run down field by Seta Taminavalu, the Chiefs midfielder powerfully fending off Lions defenders to create space.

Persistent possession from turnover ball at the breakdown saw the Lions begin to hold the Chiefs in their red zone. The pressure eventually led to a try as the long period of possession paid off.

Lions hooker Malcolm Marx scored to put the Lions back in front.

Jantjies extended the Lions lead to 16-8 as the penalty count mounted considerably against the Chiefs, and the young Lions first-five landed yet another three moments later, making it 19-8.

McKenzie gave the Chiefs some respite, landing a penalty on the halftime siren to head into the sheds trailing 19-11.

Brodie Retallick departed early in the second half with a niggle to his left shoulder.

The Lions pushed further into the lead when the speed of winger Courtnal Skosan proved to be too much for the Chiefs defense, stepping through two defenders and scoring in the corner for the Lions second try.

Trailing 24-11, Dave Rennie began ringing the changes in the hopes of providing a little impact off the bench in a game where the Chiefs were finding it difficult to get anything going on offense.

McKenzie scored after receiving the ball in space, notching a crucial five-pointer to bring the Chiefs closer.

Stunning footwork from James Lowe fooled the Lions defense, and in one of the best tries of the season so far, the Chiefs hit back into the lead 25-24 in a game that had suddenly turned into a nail biter.

Warren Whitely smashed through as the Lions surged again, scoring to put his side back in front, the score 31-25 after Jantjies converted.

Sideline referee’s missed a clear foot on the line as the Lions took possession from broken play, and amongst the chaos, Lions backs found themselves with an overlap.

Ruan Combrinck scored the Lions fourth try, increasing the lead past 10-points with the last part of the match remaining.

With no choice but to go onto full attack, the Chiefs turned down an easy three points, choosing to opt for an attacking lineout close to the try line, and the gamble paid off.

Brad Weber swiped the ball from the back of the ruck and scored a crucial try for the Chiefs. McKenzie converted, but the Chiefs were still behind by four points with the score now 36-32.

Referee Andrew Lees had the final say in the match, penalising the Chiefs with attacking ball on the five-metre line, despite replays suggesting that the Lions forward pack had illegally brought down the rolling maul on the last play of the game.

The Lions won 36-32 and secured their second win on the trot.

Score Centre

Chiefs 32

(Tom Sanders, James Lowe, Brad Weber, Damian McKenzie 1 try, 2 pen, 4 con)

Lions 36

( Malcom Marx, Courtnal Skosan, Warren Whitely, Ruan Combrink, Elton Jantjies 4 pen, 2 con)

All Black wingers under spotlight in RWC opener

The performances of the All Black wingers will be looked at closely as the defending champions open their RWC in front of 90,000 people.

Credit: Photosport

When Nehe Milner-Skudder runs out onto Wembley Stadium on Sunday afternoon it will cap off a remarkable year of rugby thus far for the youngster who had quickly become a regular starter.

Milner-Skudder will be pinching himself because this time a year ago he was a relative unknown.

After a beyond impressive Super Rugby season with the Hurricanes the winger was given a deserved shot in the black jersey; making it count with two tries on debut against the Wallabies.

Milner-Skudder is confident enough to believe he deserves to be in the squad long term, but this World Cup will be a solid test of the youngsters’ mental strength in high-pressure situations.

The Super Rugby final for the Hurricanes is no comparison, this goes for Julian Savea as well.

All eyes should be on the performances of the two All Black wingers in particular.

To many, Julian Savea should always be featured in the All Blacks strongest squad but he needs to improve his form slightly. This World Cup is the perfect opportunity to take the place and status of the “new Jonah Lomu” in modern day rugby.

Daniel Carter also makes his first start in a World Cup since his traumatic injury in 2011 that ruled him out of the last tournament.

“Slow starting” All Blacks yet to be punished

If the All Blacks are to be stopped at the RWC, sides are going to have to play 80-minute rugby.

Credit: 3News

There is no doubting that in the last season or two; the All Blacks have come out of the gates slow and haven’t kicked into gear until just before halftime.

Richie McCaw and his men seem to always score in that last ten-minute period, and the result it has on the opposition is so staggering.

Usually it is a mistake from the opposition that leads to the All Blacks cashing in, that isn’t to say the skill of the defending champions doesn’t warrant these tries, but in many cases, sides who play the All Blacks are simply switching off.

Teams get their noses in front of the All Blacks, only to have the wind taken out of their sales just before halftime.

Recent results have suggested that the All Blacks can be beaten at the RWC, but sides have to capitalise on the slow starts if they continue. Punishing with penalties won’t be enough, tries must be scored, and sides need to put in a full 80-minute performance.

The All Blacks will always be a better side in terms of execution in the second half; it is up to their opposition to punish any mistakes.

TJ Perenara admitted that he himself is a slow starter and isn’t satisfied with his performance early in a match, the halfback saying he tries to do too much early on.

The All Blacks kick off their World Cup campaign next Sunday against Argentina.

Slight ankle tweak for Colin Slade

The nation can breathe a sigh of relief – Colin Slade’s injury is not serious.

Colin Slade. Credit: MoreFM

Slade was carried from the field during an All Blacks training session this morning, but it has been confirmed that the injury will not rule the first five out of the Rugby World Cup.

Slade rolled his ankle while training in wet conditions in Wellington, however is expected to make a full and quick recovery.

All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster squashed the concerns on Slade, revealing that the extent of the injury was a minor angle tweak

A frustrated Slade urged nearby journalists to ease up prior to the media conference.

“Tell the reporters to relax. They’re making my mum nervous,” Slade said.

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.