by Euan Kilgour
2 Sep 2003
Once again, we have embarked on, as John Mitchell coined it, a ‘journey’ of our own. After an indifferent S12 performance with the Chiefs, the core players of the Waikato side had to regather themselves as they looked to repeat their efforts of last year.
Hampered by the loss of their inspirational captain Deon Muir, All Black fringe lock Royce Willis and star wingers Bruce Reihana (playing in France) and Roger Randle (serious career threatening ankle injury); Waikato looked to rebuild the team around the dynamic and charismatic Jonno Gibbes.
After some indifferent preseason performances where they were comprehensively outplayed by Bay of Plenty and North Harbour, Waikato’s forward pack began to arise from their slumber and started to play a very structured yet simplistic game which yielded oodles of possession which the backs then went and squandered.
An equally powerful Taranaki pack simply soaked up the pressure and fed their backline with quality ball and they made the most of their skant possession and Waikato’s fundmental yet unforced errors to comfortably win the season opener at Waikato Stadium. Not a good way to start the season when you only have 4 home matches.
Next up saw the Mooloo men host a Wellington side who had looked shakey against Southland the week before but looked dangerous and showed enough raw talent to win that match. The Mooloo pack started where it left off, taking the Gilbert and shoving it firmly up the jumper for the better part of the first half, refusing to let the Wellington pack or the Waikato backs get their hands on it. What little possession Wellington had they squandered, but it was only through some inept kicking that they showed their dangerous ability to counter attack and scored two wonderful tries. Waikato replied up front by grinding their opposites down and replied with tries of their own, but in the end it was the boot of winger Loki Crighton who saw them home. A nail biting match, but the signs were there that the forwards were begining to get their act together.
The less said about the backs the better. in two outings they had shown that they could not handle damp conditions and their option taking was nothing short of woeful. Only Crighton and fullback Todd Miller showed any signs of actually worrying the defense, the rest looking rather pedestrian.
Round three saw the Mighty Mooloo men take the trip to the winterless north to play an all but full strength Northland side who had looked the goods against a fragile looking Canterbury side (who always start slow) but had faltered under the weight of the Taranaki juggernaut during round two and had taken a heavy loss. A fine and sunny day saw an almost reverse performance from the forward pack and the backs, the forwards coughing up possession left right and centre and the backs making incisive runs, clever little wipers kicks and generally looking like a polished unit. Defensively though they were let down by some rather in effectual tackling and some equally as ordinary refereeing which gifted Northland one of their two tries.
A double to centre Regan King who is starting to show some of the form that put him into an All Black touring party, and some deft slight of hand from Rhys Duggan who is starting to come right also saw the backs make the most of the dry and sunny conditions to run in four tries to seal a vital 5 point away win. Cudos also has to go to MOTM openside flanker Wayne McEntee who ran himself to a standstill and was the pick of the forwards in the first half, Jonno Gibbes who lead from the front in a style reminiscent of Deon Muir, and Keith Robinson who is doing all the things in-form locks do very well.
As a fan it has been a rather frustrating season so far. Looking at some of the things the team has done well compared with some of the braindead things they have done also is a terrible thing for me to deal with as I don’t know if the team will grind out a win, get totally thrashed or run away with the game. I now know what it must be like to support Wellington. On a good day this team will beat anyone, but is also likely to lose to anyone on any other day.