NPC Round 4 – Oh the pain!!
by Euan Kilgour
6 Sep 2001
This week I actually felt confident walking in through the gates at Rugby Park. Waikato after a belligerent encounter with 2000 Champs Wellington were finally looking as though they had enough nouse to win the close games and put teams away. Taranaki were coming in on the bottom of the table and after three home games were without a win. Surely Waikato could hold them out.
After a strong first quarter Waikato had been first to score and got in a wonderfully worked try to Scott McLeod. Then another try to Bruce Reihana put Waikato 10 points in the lead, but by this time the cracks were starting to show in Waikato’s tight five, and pressure on them finally lead them to collapse, Taranaki crashing over the line from an attacking lineout. The conversion coupled with a penalty earlier on gave Waikato a slim2 point lead heading into the break.
The second half was all Taranaki who dominated up front and scored two tries to take a 5 point lead. Waikato started to come back, but it was too late, and Taranaki got themselves out of the relegation zone with a 5 point win.
This pretty much sinks Waikato’s chances of a semi berth, as they now must win away again a strong Northland side, and an Auckland side who up until Saturday were looking ominous.
My feeling at the end of the game was one of disgust. Waikato are capable of a much more composed effort than the side that decided it had to play catch up football 10 minutes into the second half. They desperately missed the experience and calming influence of captain Deon Muir, and Rhys Duggans game imploded under the pressure of the captaincy. The backs did well with what ball they got, as Waikato were keeping level with their opponents in loose play. But the 50/50 balls were not going to hand and the last passes were forced, giving Taranaki a surfeit on unforced turnover ball which they calmly converted into territory.
Waikato lack that clinical performance of putting teams away when they’re on top, often going through patches of indifferent form when they should be pressing the foot down on the throat hard. The problem is definitely not in their ability, as Waikato have one of the strongest sides on paper with a ton of skill and potential. No, the answer lies up in that grey matter – they must acquire the mental toughness that Australian teams have.by