Waikato to start provincial rugby campaign without fringe All Blacks
Waikato will start their national provincial rugby campaign on Saturday without fringe All Blacks Damian McKenzie and Tawera Kerr-Barlow.
That duo will be part of the New Zealand squad in Sydney this week preparing for the Rugby Championship opener against the Wallabies on Saturday - the same day the Mooloo men meet Taranaki in their first 2017 Mitre 10 Cup game in New Plymouth.
Waikato completed their impressive NPC pre-season in solid style in Hamilton on Saturday with a bruising 31-21 victory over Bay of Plenty that delighted coach Sean Botherway.
"It was a good game of rugby. I think both teams got a helluva lot out of that," Botherway said of the five tries to three-win in taxing conditions at Beetham Park.
"Most of all, good Mitre 10 Cup intensity.
"We weren't interested in the outcome, we're more worried about how we go about our work. We were looking for intent , I put a challenge to the boys that they needed to earn their spots - there's a lot to play for.
"Both teams had a smattering of Super Rugby players coming back in, and Bay of Plenty are a really combative team, so really good for us to have that game," Botherway said.
Some early lineout woes bothered Waikato and Bay of Plenty took the lead following a smart chip-kick from veteran first-five Mike Delany, before Zac Guildford crossed easily for Waikato on an overlap after a blindside scrum move and a series of pick-and-go's.
Playing at No 8, James Tucker crossed out wide soon after to put Waikato ahead before the visitors grabbed the lead back after turning down a couple of kickable penalties in favour of scrums. Just before the break, Matty Lansdown swooped on an error to scoot clear and give the hosts a 17-14 halftime advantage.
Waikato's scrum was impressing and that set-piece allowed skipper Dwayne Sweeney to burst through under the posts and convert his own try and while Bay of Plenty again replied, they lost a player to the sin-bin with a deliberate knock-down and fullback Sevu Reece took advantage again off a scrum move to score the final try.
Botherway said the possible star halfback/first-five pairing playing for Waikato may be a few rounds away yet.
"They've both gone to Sydney - so that clearly rules them out for this week, and then the All Blacks have got a test in Dunedin the next week.
"I guess it's a week-by-week thing with Damo [McKenzie] , but we're potentially not looking to see Tawera until the All Black bye week," he said.
Pita Ahki (knee) and Atu Moli (foot) are on the medium-term injury list but Botherway was hopeful of having the rest of his squad available for the match in New Plympouth.
"This is a really good group that has worked hard in the pre-season, the attitude is really good - I couldn't have asked for more so far."
Botherway also had praise for skipper Dwayne Sweeney, who was a busy contributor in the win over BOP.
"The most important thing is that you can see he can more than still play at this level. He's a quality player with a huge amount of experience.
"The thing that impressed me most sideline today is his voice - he gives us great leadership."
2017 Waikato Mitre 10 Cup Squad
Forwards: Latu Talakai, Sefo Kautai, Loni Uhila, Ayden Johnstone, Josh Iosefa-Scott, Atu Moli, Samisoni Taukeiaho, Sekope Lopeti, Hame Faiva, James Tucker, Leva Fifita, Sam Caird, Jacob Skeen, Luke Jacobson, Mitch Jacobson, Adam Burn, Jordan Manihera, Jahrome Brown. Backs: Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Harrison Levien, Pele Cowley, Damian McKenzie, Sam Christie, Pita Ahki, Tevita Taufui, Bailyn Sullivan, Dwayne Sweeney, Anton Lienert-Brown, Iliesa Ratuva Tavuyara, Sevu Reece, Zac Guildford, Tyler Campbell.