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ITM Cup Preview: Counties Manukau v Otago

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Thursday, July 29, 2010    Sportal.co.nz    Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: Bayer Growers Stadium, Pukekohe, Saturday July 31, 16.30 NZT.

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 31 – Counties-Manukau 14, Otago 17.

LAST TIME: October 24, 2009 (Dunedin) – Otago 22-19 Counties-Manukau.

LAST TIME AT VENUE: September 8, 2001 – Counties-Manukau 14-11 Otago.

MATCH ODDS: TAB (Tuesday): Counties-Manukau $2.15, Otago $1.65.

WALKING WOUNDED: There was some doubt over Tana Umaga's fitness midweek but he has been named to start this match. The Steelers have named what most would consider their strongest team, with solid forward and some pacy backs. Otago has also named a strong side, although leading props Ben Nolan and Keith Cameron were not considered due to knee and shoulder problems respectively.

FORM: Counties-Manukau had its best pre-season for a while, drawing with Auckland and losing by one point to North Harbour. Otago smashed Southland Spartans (effectively Southland B) and beat Tasman in its other game.

WHO'S HOT: Counties-Manukau has a backline that could light anyone up – the three-quarter line in particular has a ton of speed – and so needs the forward to lay a sound platform. Pressure will be on veterans Simon Lemalu and Jamie Chipman to deliver in the tight and ensure quality ball. Tim Nanai-Williams has made huge strides in the last 12 months and is a dangerous playmaker with a scoring knack. Otago will look to Adam Thomson and Alando Soakai to control the loose play as well as carry the ball forward, while bruising Western Force centre Josh Tatupu could well be the sort of dynamic midfielder the Dark Blues have been looking for in recent seasons. If he is the line-breaker Phil Mooney hopes, the speedy outside backs should benefit.

WE THINK: Counties-Manukau has a very good record against Otago at Pukekohe, which makes this hard to call. However, we believe the Otago forwards will be superior and be able to control play, so we're going for a narrow (five to ten points) Otago win.

TEAMS:

Counties-Manukau: 1. Simon Lemalu, 2. Grant Henson, 3. Jono Owen, 4. Taiasina Tuifua, 5. Jamie Chipman, 6. Fritz Lee, 7. Pepa Kolomatangi, 8. Viliami Fihaki, 9. August Pulu, 10. Dean Cummins (captain), 11. Sherwin Stowers, 12. Tana Umaga, 13. Siale Piutau, 14. Ahsee Tuala, 15. Tim Nanai-Williams.

Reserves: 16. Mark Price, 17. Graham Dewes, 18. Ronald Raaymakers, 19. Jamie Gilbert-Clarke, 20. Samisoni Fisilau, 21. Baden Kerr, 22. Reynold Lee-Lo.

Otago: 1. Kees Meeuws, 2. Peter Mirrielees, 3. Sam Hibberd, 4. Hayden Triggs, 5. Seko Kalou, 6. Adam Thomson, 7. Alando Soakai (captain), 8. Peter Grant, 9. Sean Romans, 10. Glenn Dickson, 11. Fetu'u Vainikolo, 12. Josh Tatupu, 13. Ben Smith, 14. Ryan Shortland, 15. Chris Small.

Reserves: 16. Liam Coltman, 17. Blair Young, 18. Hoani Matenga, 19. Eben Joubert, 20. Johnny Legg, 21. Andrew Parata, 22. Joe Hill.

REFEREE: Vinny Munro