However bad things may have appeared in the Taniwha team heading into their must-win game against Waikato, they were in fact worse.

There's nothing more humiliating than losing by a staggering 71 points at home- hardly an ideal springboard for finals footy with one round left in the Mitre 10 Cup before knockout stages begin.

Lest anyone forgot, the visitors scored almost a point a minute and home fans would quite frankly have had enough by halftime, when the Mooloos led 38-7 thanks to six tries.

Despite losing 71-28 at Okara Park on Saturday, Northland have qualified for the semis courtesy of a bonus-point and play their last round-robin match against Bay of Plenty in Tauranga.

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There will be more of the same in store unless the team can make significant progress in defence and look after the ball better at the breakdown.

What a tragedy that captain Matt Moulds had to endure such an awful afternoon while playing his 50th match in the Cambridge Blue.

The same problems keep creeping back for Northland, especially their defensive game, and it goes from bad to worse when the opposition opts for quick ball and multiple phases of pick-and-go.

That's exactly what Waikato did - and their inside passes and width in attack caught Northland napping.

With players like the outstanding first five Fletcher Smith and wing Sevu Reece, Waikato employed variations on a movement-based theme, and kept the ball in play at every opportunity with infield kicks and long passes.

Rene Ranger on his way to scoring Northland's first try against Waikato at Okara Park. Photo/Michael Cunningham
Rene Ranger on his way to scoring Northland's first try against Waikato at Okara Park. Photo/Michael Cunningham

They opted for direct running, knowing there was every opportunity Northland would fall off tackles, and the Taniwha did just that.

And in the tackled ball area, Waikato's defenders were able to dig in their studs and managed to turn the ball over often before unleashing their dangerous backs to finish off the moves.

Northland's inability to transition from crunching forward play to the sweeping back moves they are renowned for deserted them. And because they couldn't do that, they didn't look like a Northland side anyone could recognise. This is not the style of rugby Northlanders want.

Myles Thoroughgood, playing at fullback in place of an injured Matty Wright, didn't help as the former couldn't have bought a good decision.

It all boiled down to sloppy defence and goodness knows how many training sessions Northland will need to get that right.

At the breather, they had missed 16 tackles and spent just 23 seconds in the opposition 22 compared to more than four minutes by Waikato.

The Taniwha conceded nine turnovers to Waikato's five.

Another galling feature of the first half was Waikato scoring the first three tries on the left flank, where the Northland defence was caught short.

Having won the last three matches against Waikato with an average of about 38 points, this Mooloos side - who sit atop the Championship ladder on 33 points - were simply too hot to handle.

They were keen to put on a good show at Okara Park as the side hosts Otago in Hamilton this Saturday in a Ranfurly Shield challenge.

Waikato opened the scoring in the first minute, after fullback Matty Lansdown fielded a kick and scooted down the left flank before offloading to Bailyn Sullivan for the touchdown.

The home side replied 10 minutes later, Rene Ranger throwing a long cutout pass on the wing to Renata Roberts-Tenana who darted downfield before flicking an inside pass back to Ranger to level the scores.

But it was one-way traffic from there on as Waikato ran rampant.

Reece and Quinn Tupaea scored a brace each while Smith, James Tucker, Raniera Takarangi and Pepesana Patafilo got one each.

Northland's other tryscorers were Roberts-Tenana, Sam Nok and Aorangi Stokes.

Northland are sitting in fourth spot on 22 points after four wins and five losses.