When Don­ald found his groove

South Waikato News - - PICK THE WINNERS -

Stephen Don­ald is back and so is the Waikato rugby team when it comes to hunt­ing a na­tional cham­pi­onship semi­fi­nal berth.

Waikato might have ended the week­end in its sta­tus quo po­si­tion of sixth on the ITM Cup lad­der but the top half of the ta­ble con­tin­ued to tighten up at the week­end.

Just eight points sep­a­rate the top seven and Waikato are only two points off the top four af­ter their 33-15 win over Tas­man at Waikato Sta­dium on Satur­day night.

‘‘I think this is just the plat­form the boys need,’’ Don­ald said af­ter goal­kick­ing seven out of seven for an 18-point per­sonal haul and play­ing with grow­ing as­sur­ance to guide Waikato on at­tack in his first start in nearly four months.

‘‘It was a good team per­for­mance and it gets us back on track,’’ he said, while ad­mit­ting it would take a huge ef­fort to beat a tal­ented North­land side in Whangarei this Satur­day.

‘‘We talked about hav­ing a five-game fo­cus from now on and that’s week one out of the way.’’

But it was not all plain sail­ing for the home side with a rather ten­ta­tive and con­ser­va­tive start and again a num­ber of chances blown in the match, any of which would eas­ily have gained them a bonus point.

‘‘Tas­man put us back on our heels in that first 20 min­utes of the first half and we were cer­tainly a lit­tle bit shell-shocked.

‘‘Things weren’t quite go­ing to plan and we just weren’t there phys­i­cally, while de­fen­sively we were just rid­ing too much and weren’t dom­i­nat­ing that con­tact area but then we got into it pretty well,’’ he said.

‘‘As far as a try-scor­ing bonus point goes it’s still an ex­e­cu­tion thing and to be hon­est I don’t know how many of us knew we hadn’t got the bonus point. I thought we had it.’’

Don­ald said he per­son­ally had felt bet­ter for hav­ing 30 min­utes off the bench against South­land the pre­vi­ous week to shake off the ‘‘rust’’ af­ter nearly four months on the side­line through a badly torn chest mus­cle.

‘‘Last week was a big ner­vous week for me.

‘‘I’d never come back from a ma­jor in­jury and I was hav­ing to deal with all that so I just wanted to get through last week and this week, as the game wore on, I could set­tle back into my groove a lit­tle bit,’’ he said.

‘‘In ev­ery part of my game I was start­ing to feel a bit of rhythm tonight and while I’m far from where I want to be it was cer­tainly a good step­ping stone.’’

Don­ald said he pulled rank to get re­placed just seven min­utes from the end of the game af­ter feel­ing his ham­string tighten up and also feel­ing un­well from a cou­ple of blows to his midriff. ‘‘I thought I was go­ing to have to slog out the last 10 but then I saw we had one more sub left and when I saw Chris­tian [ Leali­ifano] com­ing off I pulled rank on him,’’ Don­ald said.


BACK IN FORM: Stephen Don­ald starred in his first start for Waikato this sea­son, kick­ing 18 points.

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