Not many saw Waikato putting 53 points on the scoreboard against a Wellington side favoured by many to do great things in Mitre 10 Cup this season.

Damian McKenzie kicked penalties, lots of them in fact, and while the popular backline general will get a lot of the headlines for his 33-point bag, the big opening round victory is a true team feel good story for Waikato who scored some truly good tries after being behind early.

Waikato's five tries came from keeping possession in good territory, as well as a bit of luck against the run of play.

They weren't favourites, at least on paper, especially given how average the last few seasons have been. But you always knew that having some top-level Super Rugby and All Black experience would make a difference in not so small ways.


What should please Waikato fans the most when reflecting on the opening 53-28 win is the composure their team showed with much of the possession.

It was an up-tempo game, every player seemingly given the licence to do all they could to keep the team surging downfield rather than sticking to a specific formula.

That's somewhat ironic, when you consider the Chiefs' play style on the same Waikato Stadium turf just a few weeks ago.

Mitre 10 Cup may be a different beast altogether, with lower pressures and a much more developmental agenda rather than the highest performance regimes, but it has to be said that the likes of McKenzie and Anton Lienert-Brown, two players who seemed so robotic under Warren Gatland's Chiefs just weeks ago, appeared to thoroughly enjoy the style of rugby Waikato played in their opening encounter.

Waikato coach Andrew Strawbridge sported a nervous grin after his team secured a rare win to start the season and pointed to the need to improve on the physical game up front while keeping the same quick tempo.

"We want to play a game that centres around keeping the ball alive," Strawbridge said. "Quite often we tried to force a few things where taking a few more rucks might have been the better option rather than trying the miracle pass."

Composure on defence might also be a work-on during the week, as for all their dazzling work running the ball and attacking the red zone, breakdowns in Waikato's structure when defending their own line consistently kept Wellington within a sniff and had been a core factor in an uncomfortable, slim lead heading into halftime, ahead 23-21.

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Wellington surged in parts, thanks to Waikato it was the penalties which had allowed the visitors to use their strong driving maul to advantage when within metres of the tryline, metres that hadn't been earned but given, something that wasn't lost on the coach.


"We got a bit ahead of ourselves and in some parts were a bit reckless so the big message was about discipline and stopping the piggy back mistakes that were handing them territory back in our half," Strawbridge said.

There's still much to work on, but Waikato can smile for now. Their Mitre 10 Cup campaign is off to a fine start, now the area of consistency must be a major focus as the team builds toward hosting North Harbour next Saturday.

Michael Pulman is a Hamilton-based freelance journalist.