Waikato players did themselves a world of good for WaiCoa Bays Stallions selection after a big win over Bay of Plenty at the weekend.
In the last representative fixture for the teams before the national zone competition kicks off next month, Waikato dished out a 44-12 defeat to BoP at Puketawhero Park in Rotorua on Saturday.
It was not a vintage display by the visitors but they were still able to pile on enough pressure to force the Bay side into plenty of errors.
Despite the fine but cold conditions the match was a stop-start affair with players feeling their way into on-field combinations and the two referees blowing a lot of penalties.
Waikato opened their account through centre Namu Puru, who crashed over after a strong run from dummy half in the 12th minute.
Halfback Hayden Karena orchestrated and scored the second when, on the first tackle from a scrum, he kicked over the top and booted the ball ahead and dived on it.
The visitors dominated possession and territory and a minute before halftime they turned that into more points when second rower Faa Leilua easily stepped his way past the defence on the right. Karena's conversion made it 16-0 at the break.
There was a second try in the second half to Leilua but John Love-Henry scored for the hosts after they forced a dropout and at 20-6 it could have set up an interesting last 20 minutes but Waikato lifted their game and BoP began to fall off tackles, resulting in four tries in nine minutes.
Waikato coach Morgan Kutia knew his players had it in them.
"It was always going to be tough in the beginning because you come down to Rotorua and [BoP are] playing on their home field in front of a home crowd," he said. "But as the game wore on we could sense that they were perhaps beginning to wilt.
"And we thought that if we played hard in that first 20 minutes of that second half, the last quarter of the game we would be able to open up, and that's how it transpired."
With one round of club football remaining there are still openings for players, and Kutia said the re-introduction this year of the WaiCoa Bays competition meant selecting the Stallions was easier as the players were playing against others from the catchment area.
The Bay of Plenty-Waikato matches in the other three grades at the same ground were closer contests.
The hosts won the Under-20s 42-32 and the Under-17s 22-18 and Waikato took the Under-15s 32-18.
Meanwhile, there was a WaiCoa Bays club catch-up game in Tauranga on Saturday which saw the Otumoetai Eels secure themselves a semifinal spot by annihilating the Hamilton Hornets 102-6.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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