Over the entire 2018 Mitre 10 Cup, roving rugby vlogger Paul Edwin Bains has followed the ‘road of revival’ for Waikato rugby. A team demoted from the top division a year earlier, they completed their redemption on Friday when they defeated Otago 36-13.
The quick reversal of fortunes was an optimal return on the goals of captain Dwayne Sweeney (see main photo), first-time head coach Jonno Gibbes, assistant Roger Randle, and the entire Waikato rugby squad. They achieved their end-goal – to return to the Premiership – and this revival will see little drop off in support of the ‘MooLoo men’.
Last Word on Rugby guest contributor Paul Edwin Bains reflects on the Championship final, and the road that the team took in 2018 – including the rise and fall, and the rise of Sevu Reece during the finals series.
Waikato revival sees MooLoo men rejoin Mitre 10 Cup Premiership
Revenge was the name of the game for Waikato; after they had lost to Otago in the last game of their regular season. That loss also meant that Otago took away the famed Ranfurly Shield, and their assistant coach said at the time there would be ‘no lack of motivation’ for Waikato if they came back for the final.
The home crowd of 4,600 were given reason to cheer when an inside ball to Quinn Tupaea led to a break from the enterprising Waikato midfielder. A player whom has matured across the full season. And his distribution has benefitted the top-try scoring winger of the Championship, Sevu Reece.
Reece has been through an emotional rollercoaster this season. Some by his own making – a prosecution for assault from his partner, which ended his hopes of an offshore professional contract in Europe – yet the winger answered his critics in the best way possible; scoring tries.
He scored two on this night, to help the Waikato side’s revival. In the final, Waikato managed to stretch their early lead as (in one scoring movement) they faked the line-out maul, used quick ball and just two passes later, Quinn Tupaea got outside his man, and over for a try. As Otago struggled with their exits, Dwayne Sweeny made a break that went close before Matt Lansdown finished off a long period of sustained Waikato pressure, to lead 19-6.
Otago were not helping themselves though. Limited entries into Waikato territory always ending prematurely with fluffed lineouts, and in a poor example an attack down the blindside getting ‘taken out of play’.
The visitors had allowed the home side to gain a lead, and it would be beyond them, to source their own revival.
Otago could only look on as Waikato revival confirmed
Any hope that Otago seemed to have was snuffed out quickly, as at the restart Otago didn’t claim the ball. Waikato’s Tyler Campbell took it on the full and went over untouched. An insult to the structures of defence that would have been used all season, so at the final hurdle, Otago was unable to confine the Waikato threat.
It all got a bit scrappy after that and TJ Ioane wasn’t having a good night. Bad decision making – a polar opposite to his season to date – was taking it’s toll. By the 54th minute mark, the game was sealed when Matthew Lansdown evaded the clutches of Matt Faddes. He literally ‘walked a tightrope’ down the sideline, then a nice little inside ball to Reece earned the flying winger his second try of the game. That made it a 20 point lead. The game was not entirely over, but similar to Waikato’s dominance of the regular season, this Otago team had little answer for a Mitre 10 Cup Championship
Even while Otago dominated most of the rest of the game, they couldn’t break down the Waikato defence. When Highlanders-import Fletcher Smith slotted his fourth penalty of the season, to made it a 4-score lead, the game was well and truly over. Otago kept pushing but couldn’t get a consolation try and it finished 36-13.
That outcome made sure of the goals which Waikato established preseason. The group wished nothing less than a rugby-revival. And when that came true, it demonstrated both the quality direction which Jonno Gibbes had brought with him, from his Guinness PRO14 rugby experience.
Goal setting reaches end-goal (despite Shield loss)
If Sweeney, Gibbes and Randle can be most satisfied, then the Championship final will be seen as their apex achievement. However, the full season might be remembered for the sheer determination.
The union would have felt the disappointment of under-performance in 2017. They and Auckland were in the ‘death throes’ of each falling to sorry endings to that Premiership season. So, while Auckland held on by their fingernails, Waikato had to swallow hard.
A taste that fans might have tolerated, if it was not for the positive work of the whole squad.
Through this years schedule, the side played many outstanding exhibitions. 70+ points in Whangarei, away wins and exhilarating home victories. So on one hand, the win over Taranaki was one of the highlights, yet, a low point could be seen as their loss to Otago – dropping the Ranfurly Shield – although this final, knockout game result has set aside any
Yet the accomplishment of now regaining the union’s place in the first division also showed the quality of the organization. So used to the high-performing demands of Premiership rugby, they were not prepared to settle for the demotion. By the provinces actions, appointments and – no matter if Gibbes will be a single-season coach – the collective efforts by the group of players and management, Waikato pulled together to achieve a singular goal.
For that, the 2018 Waikato team can be most proud of.
“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images