Waikato couldn't get their revenge on Otago to bring the Ranfurly Shield back to Hamilton in their Mitre 10 Cup rugby clash on Sunday, but despite the loss, some noticeable improvements and a heart refusing to give up should please all involved.

The phrase "I was glad with the amount of heart the lads put in today" is often used by rugby coaches, but it's no truer said than for Waikato after they put in a difficult shift and never gave up the fight.

That's in stark contrast to previous weeks where it often felt like Waikato had given up the ghost, even in positions more favorable than the ones on Sunday, so reducing the margin to a respectable 45-35 will please - all things considered.

But in the end, it's another loss, and whilst Waikato's hopes for Premiership glory aren't all over, there won't be another shot at the Ranfurly Shield in 2019 and that's the big missed opportunity considering how dangerous Waikato looked in parts before the errors in judgement.

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Their mixture of good and bad on a track destined for exciting, running rugby at Forsyth Barr in Dunedin, in conditions that suited their exciting ball runners and the game you sense Waikato have wanted to play, wasn't just in the areas you'd expect either.

Big hooker Samisoni Taukei'aho carried well to score twice, despite some niggles at lineout time, but he was noticeably intent on having a big game.

Taukei'aho is enjoying his best season of rugby with ball in hand and is firmly putting himself into the starting picture for the Chiefs next year.

His improvements are in crucial areas though, hitting his marks in the lineout, but considering the further talent he'll have to throw to in Super Rugby, 2020 could just be his emerging season.

Although Waikato's hopes for Premiership glory aren't all over, there won't be another shot at the Ranfurly Shield this season. Photo / File
Although Waikato's hopes for Premiership glory aren't all over, there won't be another shot at the Ranfurly Shield this season. Photo / File

Mitch Jacobson also showed his worth to the forward pack, showing the attitude the side needed chasing the game, rewarded with a try for his efforts also.

That was the two most pleasing aspect from this game, tries coming from the driving maul and at scrum time, but also the fighting attitude resulting in good things happening on the park with players able to execute on their will to let their actions do the talking, something that has been infrequent this season.

Waikato fans could be forgiven for despairing after a dismal first half hour, failing to have any territory of note early and throwing risky passes that often found the grass or were knocked on.

It didn't look good for the visitors, Otago were polished; punishing more often than not with tries set up by the execution of their wings on the sideline, including an absolute blockbusting performance by exciting Vilimoni Koroi who showed all his class fans saw when the 21-year old burst onto the scene for the New Zealand Sevens side.

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Injuries will also be a concern for Waikato, especially when it comes to the health of replacement utility Matty Lansdown who went down awkwardly and appeared to twist both his knee and ankle. Api Naikatini, the impressive Fijian utility forward also left the field looking worse for wear.

Taranaki (home) and Wellington (away) are the last two to come. Wins with bonus points will be the tonic for those encounters, but there is a lot for Waikato to take away from Sunday's effort, the attitude for the full 80-minutes being a big one.

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