On top but mis­fir­ing

South Waikato News - - PICK THE WINNERS -

Stephen Don­ald did it again as the Waikato rugby team beat Manawatu 27-25 af­ter the fi­nal siren in Palmer­ston North Thurs­day night.

But his con­verted try at the death and 22-point haul pa­pered over some rather large cracks in the Waikato game that need ur­gent ad­dress­ing if the Mooloo Men are to chal­lenge Can­ter­bury in Fri­day’s fi­nal ITM Cup round-robin match in Hamil­ton, with a home semi­fi­nal at stake.

A swag of han­dling er­rors and con­ceded tackle/ruck turnovers, along with some more mis­fires at li­ne­out time against the sec­ond-bot­tom side in the com­pe­ti­tion, saw Waikato play with­out the ball for large chunks of this match at FMG Sta­dium.

Each time Waikato struck back to level the score or close the gap in the sec­ond spell af­ter trail­ing 10-3 at half­time, the ef­fi­cient and abra­sive Manawatu men, clearly bet­ter at re­tain­ing pos­ses­sion, im­me­di­ately an­swered with a score of their own to pull away.

But the char­ac­ter of the Waikato men shone through in the fi­nal 10 min­utes as they laid siege on the home team’s goal-line.

In the dy­ing sec­onds Don­ald ran hard and di­ag­o­nally on the open side of a ruck, took the pass and crashed over in the tackle, just man­ag­ing to ground the ball be­side the right-hand goalpost for his sec­ond try of the match to tie the scores at 25-25.

The con­ver­sion af­ter time was up for a player kick­ing at 93 per cent (26 out of 28) since his re­turn from in­jury four weeks ago was a for­mal­ity and the play­ers, coaches and vo­cal group of Waikato sup­port­ers who had trav­elled to Palmer­ston North breathed a heavy sigh of re­lief.

Waikato head coach Chris Gibbes was quick to ac­knowl­edge the flaws in his team’s game, flaws that were all fix­able but he was just as quick to praise the strength of char­ac­ter shown at the end that en­abled Waikato to es­cape with four com­pe­ti­tion points from a match many had ex­pected it to com­fort­ably take five points from.

‘‘I think what was re­ally pleas­ing from our point of view was that while we didn’t quite get it right tonight, for the last five to 10 min­utes we showed what we can do,’’ he said.

Gibbes put the er­ror rate down to his play­ers try­ing to force passes that weren’t on and be­ing out­played by Manawatu at the break­downs where Waikato’s cleanout has not been as ef­fi­cient as their op­po­si­tion in re­cent weeks de­spite their suc­cess.

‘‘We’ve got to have a real good look at that be­cause it’s some­thing we need to get right,’’ he said.

‘‘There are a cou­ple of things there that we’ve got to look at around our hub still so we’re go­ing back to work on Sun­day and rec­tify those is­sues.’’

While Gibbes felt Waikato’s mis­takes had let Manawatu in for their three tries, he said Manawatu were a bet­ter side than their lowly place on the points ta­ble showed.

‘‘They showed tonight what they can do given pos­ses­sion and we’ve had to work bloody hard. We’re very pleased to get out of that.

‘‘But the re­al­ity is that we’ve got to get bet­ter at some of those ar­eas of the game. We’ve got to get it right.’’

Don­ald now has 88 points scored in just four starts af­ter an ear­lier cameo off the bench and it was his class and that of All Blacks full­back Mils Mu­li­aina, along with the fan­tas­tic go­for­ward pro­vided by ball-car­ry­ing No 8 Alex Bradley and the sharp run­ning of stand-in half­back Mal­colm Barnes off a strong scrum, that con­trib­uted hugely to the Waikato ef­fort.

Photo: MANAWATU STAN­DARD

TIGHT TUS­SLE: Manawatu’s Shan­non Paku is wrapped up in a tackle against Waikato.

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