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ITM Cup Preview: Otago v Wellington

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Thursday, August 12, 2010    Sportal.co.nz    Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: Carisbrook, Dunedin, Saturday August 14, 19.35 NZT.

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 110 - Otago 39, Wellington 62, drawn 9.

LAST TIME: July 31, 2009 (Wellington) - Wellington 23-19 Otago.

LAST TIME AT VENUE: October 4, 2008 - Otago 36-21 Wellington.

MATCH ODDS: NZ TAB (Tuesday): Otago $3.00, Wellington $1.35.

WALKING WOUNDED: Otago has only made one change from the side that performed valiantly in the Shield challenge, with Eben Joubert (shoulder damage, four to six weeks) ruled out. Peter Grant moves up from the bench to take his place. John Schwalger has been restored to an otherwise unchanged pack for Wellington, while Alby Mathewson (released by the All Blacks) and Charlie Ngatai are predictable backline changes ahead of Ruki Tipuna and Alipate Leiua.

FORM:

SEASON TO DATE:
Otago
Round 1: Lost to Counties-Manukau 13-29
Round 2: Lost to Southland 12-16 (RS)

SEASON TO DATE:
Wellington
Round 1: Beat Tasman 20-11
Round 2: Lost to Counties-Manukau 25-31

Despite Wellington having the better (but still not flash) record, Otago was by some margin the better side last weekend. The Dark Blues gave Southland plenty in the Shield challenge and led into the last ten minutes, but were unable to resist a close-quarter drive from the Stags forwards. Indiscipline hurt Otago, as Glenn Dickson could only watch Ben Smith miss a couple of penalties while he was in the sin-bin, and Sam Hibbard was off the field when Southland scored its only try. Wellington looked as if it had underrated the Steelers and its first-half performance was dreadful; Counties could have led by a lot more than 23-3 had a couple of breaks gone their way. Wellington was getting beaten across the park but most noticeably at the breakdown, where Counties' superior commitment resulted in six turnovers to none in the first 40 and a 9-3 advantage at the end. Although Wellington bounced back, the damage had been done and wasting a few more scoring chances removed any possibility of a come-from-behind win.

WHO'S HOT: The experienced core of Otago's pack - Kees Meeuws, Hayden Triggs and Adam Thomson - all played leading roles in the Shield challenge as the Dark Blues applied enormous pressure to the holders. Few teams defend as well as Southland, which was all that stood between the Otago forwards and significant domination. Dickson was accurate kicking for goal, but the backline as a unit seldom threatened. Wellington's best last week were found in the backline, where Hosea Gear, Shaun Treeby and replacement Charlie Ngatai were constant menaces to a Counties team that missed far too many first-up tackles. Not surprisingly, they were the three try-scorers. If any of your friends were in the Wellington forward pack, do them a favour and don't mention the game.

WE THINK: Otago often gives Wellington a hard time at the Brook and this weekend promises to be no different, although Wellington would have got the message loud and clear at training this week. Since it's Jamie Joseph's last game at the Wellington helm we think they'll have plenty of motivation, and our call is the Lions by five to ten points.

TEAMS:

Otago: 1. Kees Meeuws, 2. Peter Mirrielees, 3. Sam Hibbard, 4. Hoani Matenga, 5. Hayden Triggs, 6. Peter Grant, 7. Alando Soakai (captain), 8. Adam Thomson, 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. Seko Kalou, 19. Brad Cameron, 20. Johnny Legg, 21. Andrew Parata, 22. Joe Hill.

Wellington: 1. John Schwalger, 2. Dane Coles, 3. Neemia Tialata (captain), 4. Jeremy Thrush, 5. Daniel Ramsay, 6. Mark Reddish, 7. Scott Fuglistaller, 8. Faifili Levave, 9. Alby Mathewson, 10. Fa'atonu Fili, 11. Hosea Gear, 12. Sean Treeby, 13. Charlie Ngatai, 14. Julian Savea, 15. Apoua Stewart.

Reserves: 16. Ged Robinson, 17. Jacob Ellison, 18. Api Naikatini, 19. TJ Ioane, 20. Ruki Tipuna, 21. Hayden Cripps, 22. Alipate Leiua.

REFEREE: James McPhail