Waikato High On Experience For Mitre 10 Cup

Provincial rugby is back on the agenda. Over the next couple of months, New Zealand will see some of the best rugby in the world played, as the Mitre 10 Cup holds centrestage.

For a hungry Waikato side with more experience than before, expectations are rightly high. Stephen Donald was named as Waikato captain during the teams official season launch on Tuesday morning. The veteran has 59 caps for Waikato and is one of the teams leading all time point scorers.

Several new law changes will be implemented during the championship this year. But Waikato, perhaps unlike previous seasons, find themselves with a lot more to play for in 2016.

Waikato High On Experience For Mitre 10 Cup

Much has been spoken about Donald’s ability to lead a rugby team. Behind the scenes in Super Rugby this year, Donald was an integral part of the Chiefs leadership. When he got his chance on the field, the veteran looked to be in some of his career-best form.

Questions over Donald’s ability to play a full campaign without injury will remain after a horror run in the past 12-months. But for now, it appears that ‘beaver’ will be ready to go when the season kicks off in Blenheim this Sunday–TasmanIf Donald can avoid injury and get regular game time, he could prove critical to Waikato’s chances this year.

The province will want to return to their halcyon days. Through the 1990’s the union was in a strong position, claiming the NPC title in 1992 (see video). The young but talented Waikato men today would love nothing better than to emulate that period of success.

A More Experienced Waikato Squad Than Before

Damian McKenzie is on stand-by for the All Blacks but will likely fill the fullback role for much of the season. For the past two years, McKenzie has been favoured in the first five role while playing provincial rugby. With Donald likely to play the majority of the games at first-five, McKenzie won’t have to alter from the fullback role he’s been enjoying in Super Rugby.

Out of the 30-men in the squad, 10 are appearing in Waikato colours for the first time. Hurricanes midfielder Willis Halaholo will provide a big boost to the midfield–now in the absence of new All Black Anton Lienert-Brown.  Samoan international halfback Pete Cowley comes in to fill the void left by Brad Weber, who has shifted back to Hawkes Bay.

After stints away from these shores, Sam Christie is back on the scene and provides another first-five option for Waikato. Christie brings experience, as does the returning Issac Boss, a Waikato rugby legend in his own right. Boss was a regular for both Waikato and the Chiefs in the mid 2000’s before deciding to play his rugby in Europe.

2016 side packs more experience than in previous seasons

Loni Uhila is a player to have come on leaps and bounds since last taking the field for Waikato. The big prop made an immediate impact for the Hurricanes and has become a cult figure of sorts. Now a Super Rugby champion, Uhila (pictured) will provide a much-needed boost to Waikato’s front row.

Look out for young Jordan Trainor as well. With big wraps on his future, Trainor provides another goal kicking and fullback option. The full Waikato squad for the 2016 Mitre 10 Cup can be found here. 

Sean Botherway Needs To Convince Fans That He’s The Right Man For The Job

It is also going to be a crucial season for Sean Botherway. In his first year as head coach, Botherway could only manage four wins. But out of that, the final away victory saw Waikato capture the illustrious Ranfurly Shield in the final challenge of the season. Despite having the Shield locked away [after three defences] Botherway’s men finished second from bottom in the Premiership division. Improvement must be made, to return to ‘better days’ in the heartland of New Zealand rugby.

Speaking of the ‘Log o Wood’, the men from the Waikato will have to be at their best to come out on top of the big challenges that lay ahead on home soil. North Harbour are first to challenge for the Shield, and that game takes place in Hamilton on August 27th.

___________________________________________________________________________

Waikato get their 2016 Mitre 10 Cup campaign underway with a clash against Tasman in Blenhiem this Sunday afternoon. It will be great to see rugby played with the sun on their backs, and Waikato will use all their experience to drive the provincial rugby campaign of 2016.

 

“Main Photo Credit”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.