Rugby: Waikato retain Shield for the summer

Tawera Kerr-Barlow of Waikato looks to pass the ball out during the ITM Cup round 15 rugby match between Waikato and Hawke's Bay. Photo / Getty Images.
Tawera Kerr-Barlow of Waikato looks to pass the ball out during the ITM Cup round 15 rugby match between Waikato and Hawke's Bay. Photo / Getty Images.

Waikato 28
Hawke's Bay 3

An old school challenge like retaining the Ranfurly Shield often needs old school rugby to succeed - which is exactly what Waikato came up with tonight.

As a nasty storm swept down the island producing a near-Hurricane wind, Waikato amped their scrummaging and blitzed Hawke's Bay. It was the home side's superiority at the set piece that enabled them to take control of the game while also crushing the confidence of their opponent.

It was impressive - one scrum even ending up with Hawke's Bay tighthead Peter Borlase being spat out the back - and that robbed the visitor's of any belief they had built as a result of reaching the break just 16-3 behind.

That margin didn't feel quite enough as the teams trooped into the sheds as the wind was at the extreme end of the spectrum - and set to be behind the Magpies' backs in the second half.

Hawke's Bay needed to score early in that second phase, make a statement and put doubt into proceedings. But they couldn't win the ball, couldn't do much about the raw power and cohesion of Waikato. Alex Bradley at No 8 bashed into everything as did lock Romana Graham while Tawera Kerr-Barlow sniped, snapped and whipped the ball around the fringes.

His control and poise were noticeable and he must surely have done enough to be confirmed as the third halfback the All Blacks will take away with them on the end of season tour to the UK and Italy.

Jackson Willison was the other key contributor - the second-five providing a timely reminder as to why he was rated so highly just a few seasons ago.

He was the man Hawke's Bay couldn't contain and his agility, strength and pace were the factors that took Waikato over the gainline and behind the defence.

He has been de-listed by the Chiefs but on this form, may be picked up by the same franchise in the draft: they won't be keen to see him go if he can continue to run with such purpose and choose his options so effectively.

Waikato were also helped by their common sense tactical approach in the first half when the wind was blowing at their back. They played no rugby in their own territory: what would be the point? Sam Christie, Willison and Trent Renata were aware that thumping it high and long was no bad thing.

They might have been a little concerned that they only managed to score the one try in that period - Bradley smashing over after a sustained period of pressure.

But any fears they may have had about Hawke's Bay mounting a second half charge, never matieralised. Waikato were actually better playing into the wind. The forwards stepped up - hitting Kerr-Barlow's short balls and offloading with some accuracy.

The scrummaging crunched that bit tighter and Hawke's Bay kind of knew they were toast which is why space opened up all over the park.

A series of scrums - the series where Borlase was destroyed - eventually led to a slick move where Declan O'Donnell could charge up the middle and under the sticks to all but secure the game just five minutes into the half.

It was all Waikato from then. Other than the excellent Andrew Horrell, Magpies players everywhere were wilting.

Karl Lowe played with a reckless lack of focus and Hika Elliot couldn't impose himself. Waikato could sense that the Ran furly Shield was theirs for the summer and that despite the awful weather, they should at least try to finish things in style. Save Tokula was able to can ter over for a try that came about due to good awareness after Lowe had strangely kicked the ball away and that pretty much summed things up - one side was focused, direct and certain: the other wasn't.

Waikato 28 (A. Bradley, D. O'Donnell, S. Tokula tries; T. Renata 3 pens, 2 cons) Hawke's Bay 3 (A. Horrell pen).

- Herald on Sunday

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