Tawera Kerr-Barlow admitted to plenty of "cobwebs" and getting some of the calls wrong but he was still an integral part of Waikato opening their national rugby premiership campaign with a big win in Albany yesterday.
One of the stars of the Chiefs' winning Super Rugby campaign, halfback Kerr-Barlow has come back from a break after those celebrations, along with his team-mates from that season.
But he sparked into life in the second half after a quiet first 40 minutes at North Harbour Stadium yesterday to help turn a 12-11 deficit into a 42-22 bonus-point victory over the championship division's North Harbour.
Not only did Kerr-Barlow score one of Waikato's five second-half tries but he played a key part in a lot of their attacking play on the back of some improved breakdown work by the visiting forwards after the break.
He was replaced 25 minutes into the half by Brendon Leonard in the same 1-2 halfback punch that served the Chiefs so well and Leonard brought immediate impact with a try of his own but when Kerr-Barlow departed the lead had already blown out to 30-15.
"My lungs were blowing and there were plenty of cobwebs in there from my point of view," Kerr-Barlow said afterwards.
"My decision-making at times wasn't what I would like it to be but it was great, we got across the line and as a collective I think we played really well towards the end.
"Obviously we've got heaps to work on but to start the season off on a winning note was really great."
The young man, who has been earmarked for the All Blacks' end-of-year tour, admitted he had mucked up a couple of moves by getting the calls wrong and going the wrong way, having had only a short time to familiarise himself with a new team structure, but such was the strength of his running game that he was still able to make the most of his chances.
"I feel terrible but I'm still coming to grips with all the calls and stuff, but it did open up and I think our forwards provided a good platform at times that always makes it easy for a halfback."
Waikato provided several of their bench players with their first provincial caps and Kerr-Barlow was rapt for former Hamilton Boys' High School boarding mate Glen Robertson, who made a strong impact at centre, and Hautapu clubmate Sam Kilgour at lock making their debuts.
Jono Armstrong and Piers Francis also debuted, and Kalem Chan Boon returned after a couple of years' absence, to all make their mark.
Waikato head coach Chris Gibbes said they had expected to have to fight hard for dominance in the match and Harbour had not disappointed, staying in the contest until the 60th minute.
Waikato had first use of a stiff northeasterly breeze but as it turned out it was the teams playing into it that dominated field position and the visitors led only 11-7 at the break, with one try apiece.
Gibbes said they had used the halftime break to address the body position of their forwards at the breakdowns and once those forwards got lower and targeted the area past the ball, they became much more effective and quicker front-foot ball was delivered.
After Harbour hooker James Parsons gave his team the lead seven minutes into the second half, Waikato struck back quickly with four tries in 14 minutes to take complete control.
Loosehead prop Toby Smith, flanker Matt Vant Leven and centre Save Tokula all had strong running games to get Waikato over the gain line and from there outside backs Tim Mikkelson, Declan O'Donnell and Trent Renata revelled in the ball they received.
Meanwhile, injured flanker Marty Holah has been diagnosed with minor fracture in his ankle and a further scan will determine how serious it is.
- © Fairfax NZ News
Were the Chiefs robbed at the New Zealand rugby awards?Related story: (See story)