Waikato has notched a crucial early-season win over Manawatu 28-21 in Palmerston North this afternoon.
Manwatu fightback against Waikato. Credit: Perform Group
The win puts the Mooloos back on track after a loss in week one.
Performing much more comprehensively in all areas. Waikato utilized their backline and benefit from two great impact performances by returning All Blacks Liam Messam and Tawera Kerr-Barlow.
Discipline was again a concern for the Mooloos in the victory.
Manawatu showed that they are never out of a match, coming back to nearly clinch a late victory.
Shaun Stevenson wasted no time picking up from where he left off in the last game, stepping past four Manawatu defenders to score in the corner with just over a minute on the clock.
McKenzie missed the conversion, but Waikato was out to an early lead.
Manawatu was penalised for not rolling away, then McKenzie put the Mooloos eight points in front with a kick from close to halfway.
Manawatu looked shaky early on, falling off a couple of tackles but the Mooloos kept up the early pressure, passing the ball around, and bringing the backline into the game.
McKenzie took Waikato out to an 11-point lead, slotting his second penalty.
Laim Messam showed how important his experience can be for the young Mooloos side, forcing a turnover after a brilliant counter-ruck.
Manawatu fullback Hamiora Thomas was sent to the sin bin for deliberately knocking down the ball when Waikato had a clean break and a free player out wide.
It didn’t take Waikato long to score with an extra man on the park.
Going down in the tackle, Loni Uhila reached over the try line and planted the ball down on the turf, handing Waikato their second try. After McKenzie converted, Waikato had a big lead of 18-0 with a quarter of the match gone.
Pushed for the first time on defense, Waikato was lucky to not be caught on the left after rushing up quickly.
A prolonged period of attack saw Manawatu begin to dominate possession and territory after Jordan Payne was sent to the sin bin for illegally stripping the ball.Waikato were backed up on their try line but their defense was strong and held out the attack.
At halftime, Waikato led 18-0 at Arena Manawatu.
Waikato were immediately on the attack after the break, but when Messam knocked on, Manawatu counter attacked and a brilliantly weighted kick on the break by Jason Emery setup Manawatu’s first try.
Otere Black converted and the score was 18-7.
Just after getting back to a full playing XV, Waikato were a man down again when Tawera Kerr-Barlow was sent to the sin bin for an illegal knockdown.
Kerr-Barlow would have been kicking himself after an impressive showing prior.
Fraser Armstrong powered over the line, breaking down three Waikato defenders to score Manawatu’s second. Black’s conversion saw the Waikato lead cut to just four.
As they did in round one, Manawatu showed that they are capable of coming back from large deficits and had all the momentum.
Damian McKenzie gave Waikato some breathing room, slotting a penalty to make the score 21-14.
Waikato got a little too ambitious in their own half, McKenzie threw his third forward pass of the game to hand possession to Manawatu on the try line, but Manawatu knocked on and the opportunity went begging.
Good kicking from McKenzie and Weber shifted the game back down onto the Manawatu try line.
McKenzie slicked through the last line of Manawatu defense to score and all but put the game beyond the home side. Following the conversion, Waikato was out to a 14-point lead with the last period of the game remaining.
It was McKenzie’s first try in regular season ITM Cup competition.
Manwatu inched closer with a Nathan Tudreu sideline tippy toe, grounding the ball down, and after sending the decision upstairs, the try was awarded.
On the sideline, Black struck the kick perfectly to bring the deficit back to seven.
A certain try was lost for Manawatu when Black’s pass flew over the head of a free receiver, but Waikato were not out of the woods when Declan O’Donnell was tackled near his own try line as the Mooloos struggled to clear.
One last chance with running ball presented itself to Manawatu and the Turbos opted for an attacking scrum ten metres out. Moving forward with the ball, Manawatu came within inches of scoring, but the ball became trapped in the ruck.
The referee blew his whistle, and the game was over.
Waikato narrowly held on to be 28-21 winners in round two ITM Cup action over Manawatu.