When Donald found his groove
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.