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ITM Cup Preview: Manawatu v Southland

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

VENUE & TIME: FMG Stadium, Palmerston North, Saturday July 31, 14.35 NZT.

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 37 – Manawatu 19, Southland 15, drawn 3.

LAST TIME: August 14, 2009 (Invercargill) – Southland 23-25 Manawatu.

LAST TIME AT VENUE: August 8, 2008 – Manawatu 5-18 Southland.

MATCH ODDS: TAB (Tuesday): Manawatu $3.50, Southland $1.27.

WALKING WOUNDED: Manawatu has the injury toll from hell, and a lot of leading players have been hit. Among them are Brent Thompson (retired on medical advice), Johnny Leota and Aaron Good (missing the whole year) and Josh Bradnock, who will return at some stage this season. On top of that they had a prop crisis this week with Karl Haitana ruled out of this match although Grant Polson made the starting XV after sitting out most training sessions. Southland, on the other hand, had no worries and will run out its best XV.

FORM: Manawatu lost heavily to Bay of Plenty in its first pre-season match, beat Wellington in its second and then lost 3-17 to Hawke’s Bay. Southland, alone of the ITM Cup teams, did not meet another top-flight side as it was defending the Ranfurly Shield against North Otago (48-3) and Wanganui (62-6).

WHO'S HOT: This year might be tough for Manawatu so players like skipper Nick Crosswell will be vitally important. He enjoyed a decent Super 14 season and will be asked to shoulder a big burden in the ITM Cup. Isaac Thompson, although younger and less experienced, has a similar load on his shoulders at first-five while Shannon Paku offers a wise head among the outside backs. Jason Rutledge will still have an eye on possible national selection – he had to be close this year – and Josh Bekhuis is another whose end-of-year chances cannot be discounted. Centre Kendrick Lynn has become the man who holds the backline together and, even if he’s not really in the national frame, a vital player for the Stags in this massive year.

WE THINK: Manawatu surprised many with a series of gritty efforts last year but a win here, assuming the Stags don’t have one eye on the big derby next week, would be a surprise. Southland has been a good team for the last few years, its road form is miles better these days and we see a Stags win by 10-15 points.

TEAMS:

Manawatu: 1. Grant Polson, 2. Sean O’Connor, 3. Ma’afu Fia, 4. Michael Fitzgerald, 5. Reece Robinson, 6. Nick Crosswell (captain), 7. Doug Tietjens, 8. Mitchell Crosswell, 9. Aaron Smith, 10. Isaac Thompson, 11. Lote Raikabula, 12. Francis Bryant, 13. Hadleigh Parkes, 14. Shannon Paku, 15. Craig Clare.

Reserves: 16. Rob Foreman, 17. Shane Kingsland, 18. Hamish Gosling, 19. James Oliver, 20. Karl Bryson, 21. Tomasi Cama, 22. Casey Stone.

Southland: 1. Jamie Mackintosh (captain), 2. Jason Rutledge, 3. Chris King, 4. Josh Bekhuis, 5. Joe Tuineau, 6. John Hardie, 7. Tim Boys, 8. Elliott Dixon, 9. Scott Cowan, 10. James Wilson, 11. Mark Wells, 12. Matt Saunders, 13. Kendrick Lynn, 14. Glen Horton, 15. Robbie Robinson.

Reserves: 16. Bayden Mitchell, 17. Nic Barrett or Michael Peterson, 18. Dion Bates, 19. Kane Thompson, 20. Nick Annear, 21. Pehi Te Whare, 22. Tony Koonwaiyou.

REFEREE: Glenn Newman