It's very early days in the Mitre 10 Cup, with nine games yet to go, but getting a win over Canterbury felt mighty good for Waikato on Saturday night.

As they set out to make a statement, the immediate challenge for Waikato is to not take themselves too seriously.

This was one game, a big game, and it had some high points as young talent stood up and signalled their intentions to be counted in what will be a tough road to the finals.

The 31-28 victory was Waikato's first against the Cantabs since 2011, but unlike that day, the Mooloo men did it with nine debutants in the match-day 23.

Advertisement

Senior players needed to step up and lead, which is exactly what happened thanks to the halving combination, a solid defensive effort when it mattered most, and the brilliance of Quinn Tupaea in the midfield.

The 20-year-old midfielder was outstanding and has continued his impact on from a strong 2018 campaign.

A product of the Hamilton Old Boys club, Tupaea had speed, power and the ability to successfully inject himself into the game on both attack and defense.

Some hard yards on the training paddock leading to understanding of set plays were key factors in the offensive performance according to Tupaea who starred, scoring a try of his own in the first half.

"We used some training run moves out there. The guys are putting me into some good positions so I'm just catching the ball and running," Tupaea said.

Last year's leading Mitre 10 Cup points scorer, Fletcher Smith, also chipped in well, running the Mooloos backline well with some enterprising play to set Tupaea into space.

Off the tee, Smith also kicked all four of his conversions and the single penalty attempt.

Canterbury were as efficient as expected and made their tries look easy, often just off a single phase or two, showing how Waikato weren't perfect by any stretch of the imagination.

Advertisement

Often guilty of throwing too many no-look passes rather than taking contact and recycling to the next phase throughout, there is clear room for improvement as you'd expect after just the single campaign hit out.

Handling errors were also of concern, but the composure and resulting territorial wins after Canterbury were yellow carded pleased head coach Andrew Strawbridge.

"Our game drivers did a good job of recognising the need to keep Canterbury down in their own half with that small lead," Strawbridge said. "These young men have been empowered to look at the game and do what they think needs to be done."

Waikato came into the game with 12 players unavailable, some due to injury.

Those woes may continue depending how key utility back Tyler Campbell pulls up after having to leave the field early on with a suspected knee injury.

James Tucker is expected to return for Round Two's clash this Sunday against Bay of Plenty.

Michael Pulman is a freelance journalist based in Hamilton and covers rugby, cricket and social issues.