Hope is still alive for Waikato rugby, albeit very slim hope, but they are going to have to have a lot go their way if they'll be playing finals football in 2019.

Whilst a shot at appearing in the semifinals remains possible, Waikato have done all they can heading into Mitre 10 Cup's final round of play to keep hopes alive, but the hopes are slim at best.

Perhaps indeed it may be a bridge too far, but try and tell that to a side high in confidence, strong on experience, and potential stardom to burn.

How all that is managed under the stewardship of the coaches will be a big point of interest over the next week, but one senses that the directive will be that of "business as usual" and aim to leave it all on the park.


Needing a bonus point on top of victory to stay alive in the Premiership, the start for Waikato was particularly pleasing after managing to execute most opportunities for points plus experiencing some early scrum dominance over Taranaki.

The Ryan Wheeler Memorial Trophy, in honor of the dual representative from both provinces who died suddenly two decades ago, added a deal of spice to the contest that was emotive throughout.

Scoring three times in the opening stanza, Waikato had a whole half to put the game away and managed to do so, but they had to fight for it.

Ending 38-19, Waikato conceded their season-lowest total of just seven points in the second half after heading into the break with a slim lead and a very familiar feel, perhaps concern, about what the intensity and discipline levels would be out of the sheds.

Three more tries followed in the second half as Waikato toiled through the middle period leading by just five before finding their way over Taranaki's line, solid reward for patience and execution, something that has lacked at crucial times this season.

What a relief it would've been for Waikato, their coaching staff, and the local fans to see a more solid second-half showing on home soil.

This time round, there were no examples of the Mooloo men somehow managing to pull a loss from the fires of victory.

The question is, have they left it all too late?


The nature of Mitre 10 Cup is that the battle for spots on the ladder will always be tight, but still sitting sixth in the Premiership, Waikato are in a tight spot with it all left to do on the field, and a bit of luck to go their way off it.

Ideally, both North Harbour and Auckland would lose both their Week 10 matches (vs Taranaki and Canterbury respectively) to keep the margin of points ahead of Waikato on the Premiership table slim.

Waikato would then need to beat Wellington, ideally with a bonus point and a decent points differential to be certain of a semifinal.

For a side with game breakers such as Fletcher Smith and Quinn Tupaea, led by the experience of centurion Dwayne Sweeney, a dominating performance that flips the script is more than possible, but it will require everything from Sunday's win over Taranaki plus a whole lot more.

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