Waikato 41 Manawatu 15

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First five-eighths Stephen Donald underlined his status as one of the country's premier playmakers as Waikato began their national championship defence with a comfortable victory in Palmerston North last night.

Donald crossed twice and added four conversions before departing early in the second half as coach Warren Gatland cleared his bench.

Manawatu failed to notch a win in last year's inaugural Air New Zealand Cup and were always facing an uphill battle to break their duck against a Waikato side boasting close to an entire Chiefs pack.

The Turbos did manage to lead early thanks to a scintillating try to wing Aaron James that was created by the classy one-handed offload of centre Johny Leota.

But the fairytale lasted just four minutes, with Waikato wing Soseni Anesi crossing in the corner.

Marty Holah put Waikato in front in the 17th minute as Manawatu began to struggle in the tight.

Donald crossed for his first try with Manawatu lock Hayden Triggs in the sin bin and centre Roimata Hansell-Pune scored on debut to kill off Manawatu's challenge before halftime.

Waikato prop Craig West's sin binning sparked a late Manawatu revival that was capped by a brilliant long-range try by Francisco Bosch. The Argentinian showed his class with an outrageous header to take the ball away from the final Waikato defender.

Waikato 41 (Stephen Donald 2, Sosene Anesi, Marty Holah, Roimata Hansell-Pune, Jackson Willison tries; William Ripia pen, Donald 4 con) Manawatu 15 (Aaron James, Francisco Bosch tries; Matty James pen, con). Halftime: 26-10.