05 August 2008

Waikato still positive

Kiwi rugby fans were provided with the first Air New Zealand Cup upset of the year last Thursday when Waikato was downed 18-10 by a spirited Northland side in Whangarei, and was not the only heavyweight side to be toppled by a minnow team in the opening round.

Canterbury was soon beaten 25-24 by Manawatu and defending champions and Ranfurly Shield holders Auckland was beaten 17-6 by a Counties Manakau side that didn't notch up a single win in the 2007 season.

New Waikato first five-eighths Callum Bruce was not at all disheartened by the result and said he and his teammates have taken a lot of positives from the match.

"It ended up just being the simple things that let us down," he said.

"We played the better rugby though. If you look at the stats on possession and territory we were the better team, we just blew it with silly mistakes close to the line."

Although it was clear that Waikato was the dominant team in the match, Bruce admitted that the weather and style of play ended up hugely in Northland's favour.

"The conditions really suited the way they wanted to play, but we have taken heaps from the game and are all looking forward to continuing on with the rest of the season," said Bruce.

"[David] Holwell played really well and was dictating the game with his kicking."

The rest of the season for Waikato begins with the Mooloo's first home game of the season where it will face a solid looking Tasman side.

Tasman went close to beating Bay of Plenty last weekend and showed it is a team that should definitely not be written off, especially in a competition that, so far, has been littered with upsets.

Twenty-five-year-old Bruce said he is aware of the challenges that lie ahead in the Tasman clash and said the team has been preparing in much the same way it did for Northland.

"They have a big forward pack that looked good last week so we will approach this weekend the same way we did last the last game," he said.

Bruce is a recent addition to the Waikato squad and is looking comfortable in his red, black and yellow striped number 10 jersey and said he is glad he made the move.

Bruce was drafted to the Hamilton-based Chiefs Rebel Sport Super 14 team for the 2008 season after playing 22 games for the Highlanders and representing Otago at provincial level in 24 games.

"I'm really enjoying my time with Waikato," he said.

"I had a good season with the Chiefs and obviously that helped my decision to stay and play for Waikato.

"It's a really professional outfit here and I'm looking forward to the rest of the season."

Recent talks of a European style trans-Tasman competition that would spell the end for both the Super 14 and Air New Zealand Cup would severely impact players like Bruce who use these competitions as a gateway to higher honours.

New Zealand representative teams such as the All Blacks and New Zealand Maori (who Bruce played for this year) are usually selected from the Super 14, whose players are most often selected from the Air New Zealand Cup.

Bruce said that he hasn't given the proposed format much thought but was confident the right choice would eventually be made.

"I know that whatever decision is made will be the right one for the players," he said.

"I still think we need to stick with something close to the Super 14 though.

"It means that players get to experience rugby at a high level and when they get selected for the All Blacks or whatever it won't be too much of a big step."

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