Waikato were always going to be up against it taking on a side with the talent that Tasman possess, and in the end, they came away from another 80-minutes of big highs and frustrating lows that saw the game go south.

In fact, Waikato were superb in the first half with ball in hand but couldn't repeat anywhere near the same dose coming back out of the sheds and certainly not the same level of execution that captain Dwayne Sweeney would've expected in his 100th match for the province he loves.

It ended 35-26, an exciting game in Hamilton, but one where Waikato leaked so many second half points from continued ill-discipline that it will likely see the same old message behind the conversation during the match review on Monday.

One now surely has to wonder what's not clicking following the team talk.


Now stuck third from bottom of the Premiership table, Waikato will be fighting against it if they are to make the semifinals and have been exactly the mid-table battlers their coaching staff had hoped to avoid.

Tasman was always going to be, arguably, the toughest opponent for Waikato this season.

A side stacked from top to bottom with Super Rugby talent from the Crusaders staple, head coach Andrew Strawbridge had already penned Saturday's match in as a key date in terms of showing how far his Waikato side would go now back in the top flight, and that was back in preseason.

In some parts, Saturday was a return to form for the Waikato backline who were excellent in set play and managed to pile on early points.

Two of the three first half tries came from the Mooloo men sucking in Tasman defenders, making it looks easy and fooling the defensive runners into over-targeting the ball carrier, rather than marking those in space.

Speaking after the game, assistant coach Roger Randle said he was proud at how the set piece was functioning but admitted the side weren't as clinical after the break.

"I was proud of our effort around the set piece, the forwards did really well and gave our backs the opportunity to strike, which we did well in the first half. The second half we weren't clinical and that was the game gone," Randle said.

After being on the wrong side of the penalty count all season, for the first half at least, Waikato were getting the rub of the green in that area as well. Crucially also, Waikato got points from the whistle, albeit slightly conservative with the lead in parts, opting to kick at goal despite having all the set piece momentum and solid outcomes in the forwards battle.


Leading 23-15 at the halfway point, the feeling at the break was that Waikato really needed to hit the killer blow.

Penalties were going their way, they needed to be smart and execute as they had in the opening stanza.

That didn't happen, and in what feels like a never-ending cycle with this team, it all fell apart in the second half. Suddenly penalties were piggy-backing in Tasman's favour, and every opportunity for points was taken.

Sound familiar? In fact, Waikato gave up 20-points and scored just three of their own in the second half.

"We talked about changing the record and we were going to be ruthless. It ended up being the same way as other weeks, we leaked points and made mistakes to allow the opposition to come roaring back and pip us," Randle said.

A classy team always stays in the fight, and Tasman showed just how classy they were as an outfit.

In comparison, it's not unfair to say that the differences were obvious, with a big one being how pressure is dealt with on the park.

However, a fair comparison can be made in terms of the talent pool with Waikato having several youngsters fresh out of club rugby experiencing their first season of professional rugby.

Perhaps that inexperience in parts is hurting Waikato more than many can appreciate. Youngsters don't lack enthusiasm or motivation to perform, but when you have many of them coming off the bench (and therefore taking some experience off the field) it becomes a serious test of pressure that they'll either live up to or falter against.

Speaking of motivation, and perhaps a big motivation, next stop on the calendar is a trip to Dunedin to challenge Otago for the Ranfurly Shield.

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

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