Waikato's rugby team was given a tough lesson on hanging onto the ball in wet conditions at Massey Park, Papakura, last night.
Unable to do that in the first half of their final ITM Cup pre-season game, they found themselves trailing championship division team Counties-Manukau Steelers 26-0 at the changeover.
In the end they came back sufficiently in the second spell to go down 31-17, the Steelers' only points coming from their fifth try just two minutes from the end.
"Inability to hold onto the ball really hurt us and then we've been put under pressure defensively based on that so I'm a little disappointed," Waikato head coach Chris Gibbes said of Waikato's poor opening stanza.
"We just needed to hold onto the ball and go forward. Counties were aggressive and I thought they were really committed around the breakdown and the tackle, and I think that's paid dividends for them in the first half."
Gibbes said when his team had shown in patches in the second half they could match that, they performed OK.
With last year's beaten championship division finalists due to kick off a new season against North Harbour in just 11 days there is still plenty for Waikato to work on.
"We're still looking at combinations and selections for who is going to be in that first NPC game so we'll take a bit out of that for then."
When former Waikato halfback David Bason scored the Steelers' third try and fullback Ray Laulala again converted, the home side had a 21-0 lead inside the first half-hour.
Flanker Maama Vaipulu made it 26-0 from a lineout drive and Waikato faced a big deficit going into the break. To their credit they came back with better ball retention and stronger work at the collision area to have the better of the second half but were still defeated 31-17.
Waikato's only injury concern was an ankle problem suffered by replacement flanker Marty Holah.
Counties-Manukau 31 (Ray Laulala, Simon Lemalu, David Bason, Maama Vaipulu, John Luteru tries; Laulala 3 conversions)
Waikato 17 (Glen Robertson, Jono Armstrong, Johan Bardoul tries; Trent Renata conversion).
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