Waikato in tricky po­si­tion

Rel­e­ga­tion a real dan­ger for team

Matamata Chronicle - - Sport - By EVAN PEG­DEN

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.

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