The scrum has been going well and the backline not so well but the bottom line for the Waikato rugby team as a whole is they need wins.
Waikato are fifth in the ITM Cup premiership, well off the lead and four points off a top-four position at the halfway mark. On Sunday they host Canterbury at Waikato Stadium but with a 2.35pm kickoff and fine weather forecast there will be few excuses for not getting things right out wide.
Backs coach Scott McLeod is in no doubt what is needed from his backline, although he would still give them a generous B-minus mark so far. "We're just getting a couple of bits and pieces wrong, and that's hurting our opportunities - and we're not getting a whole lot of opportunities in games," McLeod said.
"But just individual errors are taking those opportunities away. Some running lines, some not responding to communication."
With sparse opportunities, due to Waikato struggling at times at the breakdown area and lineouts, it becomes even more crucial their conversion rate is high. "We've had a very clear and very honest session this morning with the backs, and some frustrations came out and there was a robust discussion so that's great and hopefully they all quickly get on the page and tear into Canterbury on Sunday," McLeod said.
Things are little rosier for scrummaging coach Carl Hoeft, the 30-test former All Black loosehead prop. But Hoeft is wary of getting too carried away, with a few creaks appearing in the Waikato scrum against Wellington last weekend and injuries forcing yet more inexperienced forwards into the firing line.
"We've got some great players there - two very good props in Ben May and Toby Smith shouldering most of the work - and I'm just trying to get the back five complementing the front row," Hoeft said. "We've just got to keep working our systems. It's still about working on getting the right things happening at the right time - the setup, connections, the shape. And just consistency.
"That's what we're trying to work for every time we go into a scrum and to be honest against Wellington it wasn't as good as it could have been, but with three games in a week we started to see a bit of tiredness and a few cracks started appearing," he said.
Injuries continue to bite into Waikato's forward resources, with loose forward Jack Lam now due for surgery on his knee and gone for the season, flanker Marty Holah out of his cast but still in a moon boot for his ankle injury, lock Romana Graham's season in doubt with his shoulder injury dependent on how his rehabilitation goes and now front rowers Marcel Cummings-Toone and Toby Smith also crocked.
Hooker Cummings-Toone is likely to be out for Sunday's match with similar neck problems to those that troubled him last season, while Smith has a hamstring injury. The regular front row is likely to be broken up after bearing the brunt of the workload until now with backup from prop Ted Tauroa and hookers Vance Elliott and Kalem Chan Boon.
That thrusts 22-year-old Elliott into the firing line along with several other inexperienced forwards but Hoeft believes the game time will be beneficial.
"They've just got to take it and try and learn from the experience as well. I think back to myself and how did I get experience - with time in the middle. We were only young, 21 or something like that, but the more games you play out in the middle is where you get the experience."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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