Waikato are now in a battle for survival in the national rugby premiership after yesterday's 52-27 home loss to Canterbury at Waikato Stadium.
The result sees Waikato sharing the foot of the premiership table with Hawke's Bay on 10 points after six matches and they will now have to fight for their place in the ITM Cup top tier in their remaining matches against Tasman, Taranaki, Counties-Manukau and Hawke's Bay.
Waikato's lack of success is not helping stem a dwindling representation in the Hamilton-based Chiefs Super Rugby squad but Waikato head coach Chris Gibbes, however, has more to worry about than getting players into the Chiefs.
He has to turn things around from consecutive heavy losses to Wellington and Canterbury and get a winning effort against championship side Tasman at Waikato Stadium on Thursday night ahead of next week's Ranfurly Shield challenge against Taranaki.
"We are [in a fight for survival now] and not to get a bonus point out of [yesterday's game] was a bit disappointing," Gibbes said.
"But we've just got to keep looking at what's coming and we can't dwell on the past or what's just happened. We've got to learn from it and move on."
Gibbes said his team tended to learn from some things and not others and that was what was "killing" them.
"We've got four games to get some respectability out of our campaign and it's really important we just focus on what we've got and keep moving forward," he said.
Prop Toby Smith and winger Declan O'Donnell both suffered further ankle problems yesterday, but it was uncertain whether the injuries would be bad enough to rule them out of Thursday night's game, while Gibbes did not expect any of his other injured players back for that.
Waikato's defence was caught out early yesterday with Canterbury scoring three tries in the first 11 minutes for a 19-3 lead that in the end proved too big a start for the home side to peg back, despite getting back to 29-24 by halftime and 29-27 soon after.
Attitude on defence had been stressed all week in training but Gibbes said this time it was not an attitude problem. "The attitude was there I thought, but we just weren't getting into position quick enough, we weren't scanning and looking in front of us and their attack was pretty good and they took that space really quickly, put pressure on our outside guy and they were just popping balls into the holes.
"We got a bit of a lesson there but we fought hard and fought our way back into it and were right in that game and they gave us a lesson on how to be clinical.
"They created opportunities and I think they took every one of them, while we created opportunities, got ourselves in the right positions on the field and mistakes let us down again," Gibbes said.
Halfback Brendon Leonard, who scored Waikato's final try just before the break after Alex Bradley and Save Tokula had a big hand in the leadup, had a strong game for Waikato but was replaced by Tawera Kerr-Barlow early in the second half.
Piers Francis had probably his best game in the No 10 jersey but he was the second player substituted midway through the second half. Loosehead prop Smith was another to play well.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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