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Air NZ Cup Preview: Bay of Plenty v Hawke's Bay

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Thursday, October 1, 2009    Sportal.co.nz    Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: Rotorua International Stadium, Friday October 2, 19.35 NZT.

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 39 – Bay of Plenty 23, Hawke's Bay 15, drawn 1.

LAST TIME: October 3, 2008 (Napier) – Hawke's Bay 46-12 Bay of Plenty.

WALKING WOUNDED: Bay of Plenty lost Luke Braid for the next two weeks after he had to clear three yellow cards off his resume, although the dangerous tackle in Dunedin last week was good enough for two weeks on its own. Tanerau Latimer is a more than adequate replacement and there has been a slight shuffle in the backline but familiar faces fill their usual spots. Hawke's Bay has made one change, bringing George Naoupu into the starting lineup for Matt Egan. Michael Johnson moves to lock, allowing Naoupu to take his place on the blindside flank.

FORM: Bay of Plenty has stuttered a bit in recent weeks, even as it maintains a high place on the table. Three road losses in the last five weeks have been interspersed with a couple of grinding wins at home but the big worry for Steamers fans is that tries are proving hard to come by. Hawke's Bay has got its act together after a ropey start to the year and has put three straight five-pointers up, admittedly against easier opposition than Bay of Plenty has been facing in recent weeks. That aside, the Magpies are starting to look like the team that has been to the semis in each of the last two years and are now threatening to make it three in a row.

WHO'S HOT: Culum Retallick stands out for Bay of Plenty on a weekly basis with his high work-rate and accurate skills. Another youngish, but now experienced, forward with a big job is James McGougan, who will need to work hard to anchor the scrum against Hawke's Bay's powerful pack. This will be the sort of game where Junior Poluleuligaga has to play well and us his full range of skills, including his ability to break round the fringes. Ross Kennedy has been strong in the tight this year and is playing his best rugby in a while, while the return of Matt Berquist has stabilised the Hawke's Bay backline and, partly as a result of his timing, freed Zac Guildford and friends up enough for the outside backs to have grabbed seven tries in the last two matches.

WE THINK: Although Bay of Plenty remains unbeaten at home in 2009, Hawke's Bay is one of the teams with the firepower to trip the Steamers up. We think the Magpies are playing well enough at present to get the win, with maybe 10 points in hand and a heap of bruises along the way.

TEAMS:

Bay of Plenty: 1 – Joe Savage, 2 – John Pareanga, 3 – James McGougan, 4 – John Moore, 5 – Culum Retallick, 6 – Zac Hohneck, 7 – Tanerau Latimer, 8 – Colin Bourke (captain), 9 – Junior Poluleuligaga, 10 – Mike Delany, 11 – Jason Hona, 12 – Phil Burleigh, 13 – Nigel Hunt, 14 – Ben Smith, 15 – Toby Arnold.

Reserves: 16 – Dean Elmiger, 17 – Josh Hohneck, 18 – Mark Burman, 19 – Matt Henwood, 20 – Josh Hall, 21 – Corey Aporo, 22 – Zar Lawrence.

Hawke's Bay: 1 – Faka'anaua Taumalolo, 2 – Hikawera Elliot, 3 – Clint Newland, 4 – Michael Johnson, 5 – Ross Kennedy, 6 – George Naoupu, 7 – Karl Lowe, 8 – Thomas Waldrom, 9 – Chris Eaton, 10 – Matt Berquist, 11 – Zac Guildford, 12 – Andrew Horrell, 13 – Jason Shoemark (captain), 14 –Jason Kupa, 15 – Israel Dagg.

Reserves: 16 – Ash Dixon, 17 – Josh Keys, 18 – Matt Egan, 19 – Adam Bradey, 20 – Dane Shelford, 21 – Richard Buckman, 22 – Mark Jackman.

REFEREE: Garratt Williamson