Sam Christie couldn't believe his luck.
But for an ankle injury to fellow first five-eighth Piers Francis he would probably not have started Wednesday night's successful Ranfurly Shield smash-and-grab raid in New Plymouth.
Instead, he played the first 69 minutes of the dazzling 46-10 victory before being replaced by Francis, scoring one of the seven tries and playing a key role in Waikato's attack-oriented game.
Now he believes Waikato, battling to avoid relegation all season, can take that sudden improvement and rise to new levels over their final two matches of the National Provincial Championship premiership season.
"Now we know how we can play - we've tried that all season and finally we put it together - we've got high expectations," Christie said.
"We can only go forward from here and upwards," he said of the remaining fixtures against championship division leaders Counties-Manukau on Saturday in Pukekohe and the shield defence against Hawke's Bay a week later at Waikato Stadium.
Christie started the first two matches of the season against North Harbour and Northland but was then replaced in the No 10 jersey by Francis. He started at second-five against Bay of Plenty and Wellington but had otherwise come off the bench until Wednesday.
"I have to take my chances and I'm happy with what I did out there tonight. It was pretty hard on Peaches [Francis] but if you get a chance you've got to take it these days."
Christie said he thought Waikato had a good chance but couldn't believe how it turned out with such a stunning performance and big scoreline.
"We dug deep, as we talked about, but I can't believe we put it out on the pitch in quite that way."
Christie admitted an attacking gameplan suited his style of play as a running five-eighth who takes on the line and is known for his wide passing game.
"We knew we weren't going to go out there and win off kicks - we had to play some footy. We've been planning that kind of gameplan all year and now it finally comes off.
"The boys are stoked, but it's all a bit surreal right now. The Ranfurly Shield is something I never really thought about until we got the chance [to play for it] and now we've taken it.
"There are some players who have played 50 games for us and had never challenged for it before but we got this one chance and we nailed it," he said.
For skipper Alex Bradley, who became the ninth Waikato captain to lift the shield, it was an overdue culmination of what they had been planning and training for all season.
Bradley said the performance showed the team just what they were capable of when executing their gameplan accurately and seizing the key moments on offer.
"When we play our game and don't wait for other teams to bring what they've got to us it just shows you we can score some good tries and put some real heat on those other teams."
The last time Waikato scored as many as seven tries and more than 40 points in a match was their last shield success five years earlier against North Harbour, but Bradley said they now had a job to do to ensure they kept up standards to avoid relegation and hang on to the shield for the summer.
Meanwhile, the triple tryscorer from Waikato's shield triumph, winger Tim Mikkelson, will not be available to defend the coveted trophy on October 13 after being named in the New Zealand sevens team to play in the IRB world series opener on Australia's Gold Coast the same weekend.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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