Waikato down Otago for NPC spot
MATCH REPORT & HIGHLIGHTS: Waikato have ensured their stay in the Championship was as short as possible with a thumping 36-13 win over Otago in the final to move back to the top tier NPC in 2019.
After dropping their first three games of the season, Waikato embarked on a remarkable turnaround to win eight of their next nine matches on their way to the Championship title.
While superbly led by classy pivot Fletcher Smith who finished with a competition leading 130 points, it was in the tight five where Waikato really dominated throughout the season.
Whether at scrum time, with ball in hand or from the line out drive, Waikato were simply ruthless in the engine room. Their powerful pack laid the platform for a set of exciting young backs to catch the eye and terrorise opposition defenders.
With that in mind, Waikato could have easily got the wobbles when workhorse lock James Tucker was injured out of the match after just three minutes. But this Waikato team is made of sterner stuff. Young midfielder Quinn Tupaea stepped up to play a hand in three first half tries to give Waikato a 19-6 lead at the break.
The first came when Tupaea scythed through the Otago midfield and found Sevu Reece out wide for the opening try in the sixth minute. Tupaea scored himself in the 19th minute when a brilliant long ball from Fletcher Smith put him in space before providing a try-assist for fullback Mat Landsdowne in the 31st minute.
It was quite a first half from Waikato, but when Otago went over early in the second half the gap was slashed to 19-13 despite the home side enjoying a significant territorial and possession advantage.
Any nerves in amongst the home crowd were extinguished just seconds later when wing Tyler Campbell leapt high from to claim the kick off and scoot away for a try to reinstate the 13 point lead for Waikato.
There was no looking back from the Mooloos from there as Sevu Reece bagged his 14th try of the season and Fletcher Smith added a penalty to confirm the 36-13 win.
It was Waikato’s first title win since lifting the title in 2006, with Dwayne Sweeney the only survivor from that team.
While Otago will be disappointed to miss out on promotion to the Premiership, they can be proud of their efforts in 2018 and have the Ranfurly Shield to look after for the summer.
Tries: Sevu Reece 2, Quinn Tupaea, Matt Landsdown, Tyler Campbell
Cons: Fletcher Smith 4
Pen: Fletcher Smith
Try: James Lentjes
Con: Josh Ioane
Pens: Josh Ioane 2