In-form Donald denies Turbos
Thursday, October 14, 2010 Sportal.co.nz Getty Images
When Michael Fitzgerald dotted down nine minutes from time the Turbos looked to have done enough to get an upset win but, as they did throughout the match, the visitors battled hard right to the end and reaped the reward for their efforts.
The head-to-head between Aaron Cruden and Donald lived up to expectations with both players making telling contributions for their respective sides.
Donald again continued the impressive form he has shown since returning from injury to give the All Blacks coaches plenty to think about as he got across the whitewash twice and nailed all his shots at goal.
Manawatu are a different side with Cruden at the helm and he steered them round the park well, willingly took the ball to the line, distributed well and didn't shirk on the defensive duties either.
He missed two early penalties and a conversion but scored a good individual try which converted, kicked two penalties and also converted Rob Foreman's try for a 15-point haul but ultimately it wasn't enough.
The Turbos fully deserved their 10-3 half-time advantage after making all the running in the first 40 minutes.
Cruden missed a penalty inside the opening two minutes but settled the nerves with a three-pointer a couple of minutes later.
Thereafter Manawatu were by far the dominant side in the first half. They recycled the ball well, got several turnovers at the breakdown and harried Waikato into errors when they did have possession.
Cruden missed another penalty in the 14th minute and a couple of try-scoring chances also went begging.
The young first-five made a super bust right up the middle of the park but his pass couldn't find the support runner and Waikato were able to clear their lines.
Donald then levelled the scores with a penalty in a rare foray into the opposition's half.
But again the Turbos responded with ball in hand only to see Shannon Paku bundled into touch by the corner.
Waikato had a few issues at line-out time after hooker Vern Kamo was forced off with injury and an error by his replacement Hikairo Forbes at a line-out close to their own line resulted in a free-kick for the Turbos.
A few phases later and Foreman was driving over from close range and Cruden added the extras to finally turn their dominance into vital points.
The Turbos lost a second loose forward to injury just minutes after the break. Having seen Callum Gibbins limp off in the first half, Hamish Gosling – who got through a mountain of work opening 40 minutes – was forced off with a leg injury.
But his departure only came after Donald had scored a nice individual try aware the big No.8 was struggling.
A solid Waikato scrum gave Donald good quick ball and the first five-eighths got between Aaron Smith and Cruden and didn't have a hand laid on him as he raced under the posts before converting.
Not to be out-done Cruden also showed a good turn of pace to respond in kind four minutes later to restore his side's seven-point advantage.
Donald reduced the deficit to four points with a second penalty but Cruden responded with a long-range effort to push the score out again.
Barnes' converted try again locked things up before Fitzgerald looked to have done enough to give his side a rare victory.
But Donald had other ideas and sealed the win with the final kick of the game.
Scorers were: Manawatu 25 (Rob Foreman, Aaron Cruden, Michael FitzGerald tries; Cruden 2 con, 2 pen) Waikato 27 (Stephen Donald 2, Malcolm Barnes tries; Donald 3 con, 2 pen).
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