The Mooloos wont be lacking in motivation to beat Manawatu as two of their seasoned campaigners return for a rare appearance in ITM Cup rugby.
Liam Messam returns to ITM Cup. Credit: Planet Rugby
Manawatu are defending ITM Cup Championship division champs and will again be a big challenge for Waikato.
Liam Messam makes his first appearance in Mooloos colors in four years, and Waikato will be counting on his experience being critical at the breakdown, an area of concern last week.
Having Messam in the run on side will be a great motivator for the youngsters in the forward pack to perform.
If Waikato is to beat Manawatu away from home, wingers Joe Webber and Declan O’Donnell need to be injected into the game. The ball needs to be thrown across the field to put the talented wingers into space with covering support.
Captain Whetu Douglas needs to be more disciplined in the ruck.
The front row packs a little more experience with Loni Uhila starting, and coach Sean Botherway has given a lot of faith to James Tucker who starts after debuting off the bench last week.
Tucker is rated highly but has been marred by injuries throughout the last year.
Last years fixture between the two sides saw Waikato narrowly lose 22-20 after being in a position to win the match late with numbers free on the wing, but the keen Damian McKenzie decided to run the ball himself and ended up being penalized in the ruck.
Waikato should have won that game, and McKenzie will be desperate for a strong showing as the looming return of Stephen Donald lingers.
It has been five years since the Mooloos beat Manawatu away from home, the performance last week has been forgotten fast, but Waikato need to be very wary of Manawatu’s ability to comeback fast from deficits.
Manawatu nearly shocked Counties Manakau last week with a thrilling comeback, losing by just a single point.
Tawera Kerr-Barlow will have much to prove in a rare Mooloos outing as the halfback sits around third or fourth in the race of All Black number nines wanting to go to the World Cup next month.
Today’s match could be Kerr-Barlow’s last chance to impress All Black selectors.