Stephen Donald broke Manawatu hearts with a last minute converted try to seal a 27-25 national provincial championship rugby win for Waikato at Palmerston North tonight.
The international first five-eighth hit the line at pace one off the ruck to force his way over before adding the extras to lift his personal contribution to 22 points.
It was a cruel blow for 13th-placed Manawatu, who outplayed the semifinals hopefuls for large chunks of the game only to falter in the dying stages after Waikato turned to their forwards to break down the home side's resistance.
The win lifted Waikato to a share of the competition lead on 40 points alongside defending champions Canterbury partway through the 12th and penultimate round.
But it was no sure thing until Donald injected himself in the 80th minute after earlier imposing himself to spark Waikato's fightback following a fairly dismal opening spell for the visitors.
Donald initiating their comeback in the 45th minute with an outstanding piece of individual brilliance which saw him bust the line at halfway following a scrum and outpacing the thin cover.
His opposite Aaron Cruden responded with a try of his own just minutes later, using his pace over a much shorter distance to dot down after finding a big gap in the Waikato defensive screen.
His conversion reinstated Manawatu's seven-point advantage at 17-10 before he and Donald continued the personal duel by trading penalties as the gap between the teams stayed the same entering the final quarter.
Waikato's All Blacks fullback Mils Muliaina then showed his class after largely being a forgotten passenger, sparking a breakout from his team's 22 in the 66th minute which resulted in halfback Malcolm Barnes scoring.
Muliaina took play past halfway before Waikato controlled the ball, manipulated the stretched Manawatu defence for Barnes to cross, giving Donald a simple conversion to level the scores.
The tit-for-tat nature of the contest continued when Manawatu hit back hard with another try, this time to lock Michael Fitzgerald after a midfield turnover saw centre Hadleigh Parkes surge into the 22. Manawatu ferried the ball to the far left when Fitzgerald carried two tacklers over the line.
But Donald had the last word, much to Manawatu's horror after they had contributed so much to a fine contest.
Despite being the heavy underdogs, Manawatu had much the better of the first half and only poor finishing restricted their lead at the break to 10-3.
A cohesive pack of forwards employed the pick and go to good effect, repeatedly pushing their Waikato opponents on their heels as they made easy yardage up the middle.
Manawatu's backs could not boast such efficiency, though, as the few chances which presented themselves were squandered as they lacked the finishing touches required to make the most of their forwards' dominance.
The home side's only try of the spell went to hooker Rob Foreman when he drove low to the line from a ruck in the 33rd minute.