ITM Cup Preview: Waikato v Counties Manukau

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Friday, August 27, 2010    Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: Waikato Stadium, Hamilton, Saturday August 28, 14.35 NZT.

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 55 – Waikato 35, Counties-Manukau 19, drawn 1.

LAST TIME: August 29, 2009 (Pukekohe) – Counties-Manukau 8-30 Waikato.

LAST TIME AT VENUE: September 7, 2008 – Waikato 20-15 Counties-Manukau.

MATCH ODDS: NZ TAB (Tuesday): Waikato $1.60, Counties-Manukau $2.25.

WALKING WOUNDED: Waikato has made three changes for this match with the big surprise the benching of Brendon Leonard, who has been one of their best so far. The others see Steven Setephano return at No 8 and Tim Mikkelson on the wing, where Henry Speight was ruled out with a hamstring strain. Counties-Manukau shows a few changes, with the most notable being Tana Umaga's absence in midfield. Ronald Raaymakers gets a first start at lock, while Viliami Fihaki, August Pulu and Reynold Lee-lo all move up from the bench.


Round 1: Beat Bay of Plenty 13-10
Round 2: Beat Auckland 21-18
Round 3: Lost to Taranaki 23-33
Round 4: Lost to Wellington 14-26

Round 1: Beat Otago 29-13
Round 2: Beat Wellington 31-25
Round 3: Lost to Southland 9-13 (RS)
Round 4: Beat Manawatu 35-14

Waikato took a second tough loss last weekend and, while the margin was eventually 12 points, was never out of the game. Some poor goal-kicking didn't help, while only a blade of grass painted white prevented Tim Mikkelson scoring a fine individual try that would have brought the Mooloos right back into the game. That said, Waikato didn't make enough of its chances and the result was a fair one. Counties-Manukau bounced back from its narrow Shield loss with a very good display against Manawatu and could have won by more, although most of the finishing was first-rate. On the evidence of the first four matches the Steelers are a force to be reckoned with this year and already have wins over two Super 14 bases in the bag; none would please them more than a third over Waikato this week.

WHO'S HOT: Waikato battled up front at Wellington and most of the forwards came second in their individual battles. Jack Lam's game will probably be remembered for a crunching spot tackle by Hosea Gear that flattened the flanker just as a try was looming, but he did a lot of hard work either side of that hit. Tim Mikkelson added spark when he came on, but a lack of front-foot ball meant Waikato never really got its backs into the game. Counties-Manukau had plenty of standout performances, but two of the best came from Fritz Lee, who was dynamic in all areas and played important roles in the first three tries his team scored, and Sherwin Stowers, whose blistering pace set up the first try before taking him clear of five defenders on the way to one of the best solo tries of the year to date. Mark Selwyn is a real worker at the breakdown and Baden Kerr continues to impress in general play while his success rate off the tee, 82 percent, is right up with the ITM Cup's best.

WE THINK: Waikato might have the bigger stadium and bigger names, but this Steelers team is starting to look a real threat in 2010 and the visitors are our pick to collect the points. Most impressive of many things they do well is the way the forwards create turnover ball and let the backs use it – old school rugby – but it's as effective now as it ever was. Given a half-decent day, we like the Steelers by five to ten points.


Waikato: 1. Toby Smith, 2. Aled de Malmanche, 3. Nathan White (captain), 4. Dominiko Waqaniburotu, 5. Toby Lynn, 6. Liam Messam, 7. Jack Lam, 8. Steven Setephano, 9. Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 10. Trent Renata, 11. Dwayne Sweeney, 12. Christian Leali'ifano, 13. Save Tokula, 14. Tim Mikkelson, 15. Sosene Anesi.

Reserves: 16. Vern Kamo, 17. Hikairo Forbes, 18. Romana Graham or Chris Middleton, 19. Matt Vant Leven, 20. Brendon Leonard, 21. Sam Christie, 22. Frank Halai.

Counties-Manukau: 1. Simon Lemalu, 2. Grant Henson, 3. Jono Owen, 4. Ronald Raaymakers, 5. Jamie Chipman (captain), 6. Fritz Lee, 7. Mark Selwyn, 8. Viliami Fihaki, 9. August Pulu, 10. Baden Kerr, 11. Sherwin Stowers, 12. Reynold Lee-Lo, 13. Siale Piutau, 14. Ahsee Tuala, 15. Tim Nanai-Williams.

Reserves: 16. Mark Price, 17. Graham Dewes, 18. Waka Setitaia, 19. Sikeli Nabou, 20. Samisoni Fisilau, 21. Dean Cummins or James Semple, 22. Seremaia Tagicakibau.

REFEREE: Ben Skeen