Waikato laughing at last
August 31, 2008

For a team threatening to become the laughing stock of the Air NZ Cup rugby competition Waikato finally turned the joke on others with a thumping win over Auckland yesterday.

They did it in considerable style, too, walking all over the reigning champions to the tune of 34-13 in Hamilton.

It marked Waikato's first win in five outings and breathed new life into their goal of reaching the quarterfinals.

Waikato ended the fifth round in eighth place, having restored some wounded pride after a puzzling opening month in which they had failed to fire a shot.

The heavy artillery was apparently kept in storage for Auckland, who arrived in Hamilton desperately wanting to send their departing coach Pat Lam away in a manner befitting the Blues' next Super 14 coach.

Those plans came unstuck against an inspired Waikato outfit, served magnificently by skipper Liam Messam, No 8 Sione Lauaki and first five-eighth Stephen Donald.

Lauaki was a huge contributor to Waikato's win, setting up three tries while Donald claimed a personal haul of 19 points from a try, two penalties and four conversions.

Auckland faded after a promising burst in the opening minutes and became bedraggled and disjointed as Waikato burst to life in an invigorating performance.

Their efforts give some hope that at least one team can rise to challenge the dominance of Wellington, who sailed serenely on with fine 48-12 win over Bay of Plenty in the capital.

Three tries to left wing Hosea Gear helped propel Wellington to their fifth successive win as they created a significant break on the field atop the standings.

Wellington's allround strength was again advertised for all to see as they lifted a gear in the second half to score five tries in 21, two of them to impressive flanker Victor Vito.

Wellington are now all alone on 25 points, six clear of Canterbury, who showed encouraging signs in scoring seven tries when beating Tasman 44-15 in Christchurch today.

Bay of Plenty are next on 18 points but face a gruelling schedule in coming weeks as they play Otago, Auckland then Canterbury in a tough stretch.

North Harbour again failed to flatter despite beating Manawatu 20-17 in Palmerston North last night.

Manawatu were enterprising throughout without possessing the cutting edge and finishing touches which could have tipped the match in their favour.

Half-chances presented themselves but Manawatu were unable to capitalise, as poor handling and ball control frustrated them.

The passes finally stuck in the 66th minute when a midfield bust by centre Johnny Leota resulted in wing Lote Raikabula scoring near the goalposts after second five-eighth Frank Bryant played the link role well.

Matty James' conversion edged Manawatu into the lead at 17-15 but their advantage was shortlived as No 8 Viliame Ma'afu soon scored his second try of the match, finding the tryline on the short side following a ruck near the line.

Hawke's Bay are handily placed in fourth place on 15 points after beating Otago 19-10 in Dunedin on Friday, their first win at Carisbrook since 1976 and their first over Otago since 1984.

Southland are the next cabs off the rank on 14 points after a fine bonus-point 31-8 win at home against Counties-Manukau last Thursday.

Taranaki also improved their prospects by beating Northland 39-21 in New Plymouth on Friday thanks to Welsh import Jonathan Spratt.

The centre scored three of Taranaki's five tries as they secured just their second win of the season.

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