Waikato Keep Mitre 10 Cup Playoff Hopes Alive

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Mitre 10 Cup Rd 9 - Wellington v Waikato
Stephen Donald and Isaac Boss of Waikato celebrate the win at the final whistle during the round nine Mitre 10 Cup match between Wellington and Waikato at Westpac Stadium on October 15, 2016 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Waikato’s Mitre 10 Cup season is still alive after a narrow 28-24 victory over Wellington, away at Westpac Stadium.

In a match that Waikato needed to win in order to stay alive, the visitors had to battle to the very end. Waikato had a lot of attacking ball in the second half, but yet, it seemed unlikely that they’d be able to ‘seal the deal’ until late.

That was until Stephen Donald scored a surprise try. In his first appearance for Waikato all year; after injury and several good performances by Sam Christi, Donald was recipient of a brilliant pass by Damian McKenzie. The veteran raced away to score the try that put his side in front. Following the conversion, Waikato had a four-point lead, and that proved to be enough on the night.

Waikato Beat Wellington 28-24 In Thriller

At the request of All Black selectors, McKenzie was played at first five for Waikato. The 21-year old, fresh off his All Black debut two weeks ago, was as dangerous as ever, sparking counter attacks from nothing.

However, McKenzie lost possession more times than he would’ve liked. Both teams needed tries, not only to win, but to advance to the Mitre 10 Cup playoffs. Easy kicks at goal were turned down, as both sides opted for attacking lineouts.

Damian McKenzie of Waikato attempts to beat the defence of Tomasi Palu and Brad Shields of Wellington during the round nine Mitre 10 Cup match between Wellington and Waikato at Westpac Stadium on October 15, 2016 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
Damian McKenzie of Waikato attempts to beat the defence of Tomasi Palu and Brad Shields of Wellington (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Upon securing the victory, Waikato may feel somewhat fortunate to be in this position. It’s been ten years since Waikato were at the top of provincial rugby in New Zealand. Ironically, in 2006, they beat Wellington in the grand final at a sold out Waikato Stadium in Hamilton.

A few Ranfurly Shield runs aside, the results have been inconsistent at best, for the province in 2016.

An Outside Chance To Reach Mitre 10 Cup Playoffs

With an outside chance of making it through to the playoffs, it was always going to be a tough task for Waikato. A win wasn’t enough, Waikato also needed a bonus point. They got that crucial bonus point and now move ahead of Auckland on the Premiership table.

Waikato now need Tasman to lose to Southland on the last day of pool play, a result that some would call unlikely. The equation was made all the more difficult after Counties-Manukau beat Premiership leaders Canterbury in a shock result, earlier in the day.

The result keeps Waikato alive, but captain Whetu Douglas was cautious about his optimism after the match;

“With the experience coming off the bench, they sparked us up and we were able to get the win. Now we will cheer on Southland tomorrow.”

Particularly in the second half, Waikato had a long-period of sustained attack deep in Wellington’s red zone. Not only that, Waikato had an extra man on the field for ten-minutes. While they toiled and toiled away, the winner didn’t come until late.

For head coach Sean Botherway, much rides on the result of the Tasman vs Southland clash on Sunday afternoon. If Waikato are unable to go through–due to Tasman securing a win on Sunday–it will be the second season in a row that Botherway has failed to make the playoffs.

Wellington 24 (V. Fifita, H. Matenga, R. Goodes, A. Aumua tries; J. Garden-Bachop 2 cons)
Waikato 28 (A. Burn, J. Manihera, S. Reece, S. Donald tries, D. McKenzie 4 cons)

“Main photo credit”

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