Waikato confident despite patchy pre-season
Waikato will go into the national provincial premiership on the back of some patchy lead-in form, but coach John Walters says the team are confident ahead of a tough start to the season.
Opening their campaign away to last year's runners-up Wellington, this Saturday night, before hosting six-time defending champions Canterbury, Waikato will have to hit the ground running if they are to avoid playing catch-up in the premiership division.
The Mooloos' pre-season has seen them lose 40-17 to championship side North Harbour in Raglan, draw 19-19 with fellow premiership contender Taranaki in Otorohanga, before going down to championship outfit Hawke's Bay 39-22 in Napier on Saturday.
Having not managed a win in the pre-season, Waikato's belief could conceivably be wavering, however, Walters is happy with the progress they have made and their commitment to improve.
"The boys are pretty confident," he said. "Winning is always nice, and it's bloody good to start developing that winning culture and learning how to win and things like that.
"But with that being said, we feel that it's more important that we get our structures right, we build our depth and we get real clarity in what we're trying to do. And in our pre-season we focused on building our team, getting our team culture right and getting everyone wanting to play for one another. We feel like we've achieved that.
"You can easily have wins and take your eye off the ball and not actually focus on the detail that you need to get right, because going into this week is a totally different prospect when we're playing for points."
While officially in the division down from Waikato, Hawke's Bay belie their standing with the quality of personnel they rolled out in the weekend's clash, such as the Highlanders' Richard Buckman and Gareth Evans, the Blues' Brendon O'Connor and Ihaia West, and the Chiefs' Andrew Horrell and Robbie Fruean.
Waikato managed a fine start with the breeze behind them, building phases and pressure to get to a 17-5 halftime lead. But as they rang the changes and the Magpies stuck with most of their starting XV, the hosts put on 29 unanswered points to blow their opponents off the park.
"You expect to have a little bit of a lull while those guys sort of connect up, but with that being said, it was basic errors and a little bit of workrate," Walters pinpointed.
"We probably lacked a little bit of composure in that second half and we started forcing a few passes and probably weren't as accurate as we would've liked.
"So a little bit disappointed with that but still encouraged that our systems are working well."
Walters said a focus this week would be the need for composure in certain parts of the field, as well as raising the accuracy in order to finish off the nice attacks they were creating.
Fortunately for the team there were no injuries from Saturday's game, apart from a "stinger" to the shoulder of hooker Brayden Mitchell, who left the field as a precaution.
Waikato will have everyone on board at training this week, bar prop Josh Hohneck, who is still recovering from a broken thumb, and lock James Tucker, who's battling an ankle problem.
The locking injury situation is now fine, with David Morgan, Jacob Skeen and Luke Katene all back on deck.