Waikato in tricky position
Relegation a real danger for team
With four more matches left, Waikato’s top four chances in the national provincial rugby premiership are slipping away and they have not yet shrugged off relegation danger.
Waikato head coach John Walters was bitterly disappointed his side had been unable to recreate the urgency and the game plan execution against Counties Manukau in Pukekohe on Saturday that had been so impressive a week earlier against Auckland.
That meant a 37- 25 defeat – the first loss to Counties Manukau Steelers since 2000.
Waikato could take issue with the TMO awarding of Counties’ fourth try when winger Toni Pulu clearly put a foot on the touchline but in the end the winning margin was 12 so there is not too much to quibble about there bar maybe the bonus point they missed out on.
It was a performance not worthy of winning the Ranfurly Shield and now their sole focus must be on pick- ing up competition points.
Waikato are sixth in the premiership with only Bay of Plenty below them on the ladder – six points in arrears.
The good news is they have a game in hand on fifth-placed Taranaki and seventh-placed BoP but the bad news is that means they still have their midweek match to play and face a testing eight days starting this Friday.
The Mooloos will be at home to premiership leaders Wellington on Friday night at Waikato Stadium, then travel to Nelson to take on secondplaced championship side Tasman on Wednesday night before heading to Mt Maunganui the following Saturday to play Bay of Plenty in what might be a key wooden spoon battle.
A week after that they have one remaining game at home against Taranaki.
The pressure could have been eased considerably if Waikato had been able to pick up a third win at the weekend, but instead it became a fourth loss against their northern neighbours.
The Steelers played well and are certainly on a Ranfurly Shield roll and headed for the premiership semifinals, but there was certainly the feeling in the Waikato camp that they had let themselves down
‘‘ We didn’t play to our plan, we played too much rugby in the wrong parts of the field and basically weren’t urgent enough,’’ Walters said.
While Waikato opened strongly enough into the wind, scored the first try and then after 15 minutes led 8- 7, those two leads were short-lived.
‘‘We had opportunities in that first half as well and a bit of discipline let us down.’’
Walters said his players had not been patient enough on attack, had gone away from their game plan too quickly. Despite profiting up the middle of the field with pick-and-go forward attacks they drifted away from that at their cost.
‘‘The most disappointing thing is that we did so well last week through sticking to our plan but today we went away from it and played into their hands really.
‘‘When you turn up for the Ranfurly Shield and you’re not urgent you get what you deserve really.’’
Waikato carried the ball individually without good support behind them to ensure quick ball and continued forward progress of attack rather than just lateral momentum, while the kick-chase was not strong.
‘‘But we’ll just keep plugging away. We were so proud last week of the growth in our game that came to fruition, but we’ve just got to go back now and make sure that we work hard, recover and we’ve got another opportunity to pick up five points next week.’’
Waikato look to have lost a second captain with second- five Jackson Willison forced out of the game at halftime with a serious shoulder injury. Willison started the season as vicecaptain but took over as leader when skipper Matt Vant Leven had to get surgery on a badly dislocated finger.
Sam Christie had been targeting a big effort in the shield match after finally forcing his way back into the No 10 jersey ahead of 20- year- old Wharenui Hawera but despite scoring a try and creating another he cut a disappointed figure afterwards.
‘‘We had our opportunities but I think it’s just the simple stuff – the one per centers – that didn’t work today,’’ Christie said.
‘‘The boys are all feeling it at the moment because we knew we had our opportunities but we just didn’t take them.’’
Christie moved to secondfive for the second spell to replace injured skipper Willison and Hawera slotted in at first-five.
‘‘Everyone’s been talking about them having a strong backline and we back our backline against them so we wanted to challenge them and I thought we did quite well, found a few holes and that but we just couldn’t continue it on.
‘‘It’s pretty hard to come away with zero,’’ he said.