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ITM Cup Preview: Southland v Auckland

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010    Sportal.co.nz    Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: Rugby Park, Invercargill, Thursday September 23, 19.35 NZT.

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 50 - Southland 7, Auckland 41, drawn 2.

LAST TIME: October 3, 2009 (Auckland) - Auckland 27-13 Southland.

LAST TIME AT VENUE: August 18, 2007 - Southland 19-44 Auckland.

MATCH ODDS: NZ TAB (Tuesday): Southland $1.55, Auckland $2.35.

WALKING WOUNDED: Southland centre Kendrick Lynn is done for the year, which was known to be the case last week when it was announced he would undergo surgery for a long-standing groin problem after the Waikato match. Mark wells moves up from the bench into an otherwise unchanged lineup. Chris Lowery was battling a knee strain during the week but with the revamped Auckland pack he could have missed out anyway. Mark Anscombe has made six changes, mostly in the forwards, with the two biggest returning names being John Afoa and Benson Stanley.

FORM:

PAST FIVE Southland:
Round 4: Beat Hawke's Bay 23-20
Round 5: Beat Tasman 21-16
Round 6: Lost to Northland 22-33
Round 7: Beat North Harbour 47-21 (RS)
Round 8: Beat Waikato 7-6

PAST FIVE Auckland:
Round 4: Beat Northland 26-13
Round 5: Lost to Canterbury 16-35
Round 6: Beat Taranaki 27-13
Round 7: Beat Wellington 21-15
Round 8: Beat Manawatu 32-6

Since these sides sit first and second on the table, you know they have to be travelling well. Neither has been lighting the scoreboard up in 2010 - they both sit in the middle of the pack for points scored - but defensively they're brutes. More than half the tries Southland has conceded all year came in rounds six and seven, while Auckland has the stingiest defence of all, having only given up nine tries in eight games. Both can attack if possible, but both are quite happy grinding it out and have no qualms about winning ugly. The strength of each side is in a powerful pack, backed by good goal-kicking and serviceable outside backs.

WHO'S HOT: Jason Rutledge has been getting a fair bit of press this year, but he almost bench-pressed Aled de Malmanche last week to keep the Waikato hooker from scoring the winning try. It was an amazing tackle, and the sort that wins games. Rutledge is in dynamic all-round form, leading a quality pack where Josh Bekhuis is also travelling nicely at lock. The Southland backs saw little ball a week ago and Robbie Robinson was charged with keeping th lines clear, which he did through some astute tactical kicking as the main part of a sound first-five's match. Auckland got fine service from its reserves last week but the starting XV have to be more commanding in this match, and look for Kurtis Haiu to lead the way up front. He's aggressive on opposition ball at the lineout, and a bruising competitor around the park. Onosai'i Auva'a, who has enjoyed success at Invercargill previously, starts in the No 6 jersey and his battle with the Southland loosies will be vital. Matt Berquist had a bad day with his hands last week but admittedly had some rough passes to handle; he will, however, be a key man in the Shield match and his goal-kicking is something the Stags need to be wary of.

WE THINK: Southland has all kinds of trouble beating Auckland and despite going close several times has not downed the northerners since 1971. We think that string will come to an end this Thursday; the Stags have so much to play for that there won't be any problem getting them fired up for this match and our call is a narrow Southland victory in what promises to be one of the most physical contests of the year.

TEAMS:

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

Reserves: 16. Brayden Mitchell, 17. Nick Barrett, 18. Alex Ryan, 19. Dion Bates, 20. Sonny Rangitohereri, 21. Seminar Manu, 22. Pehi Te Whare.

Auckland: 1. John Afoa, 2. Tom McCartney, 3. Charlie Faumuina, 4. Kurtis Haiu, 5. Andrew van der Heijden, 6. Onosai'i Auva'a, 7. Daniel Braid (captain), 8. Peter Saili, 9. Toby Morland, 10. Matt Berquist, 11. Chay Raui, 12. Jamie Helleur, 13. Benson Stanley, 14. Dave Thomas, 15. Brent Ward.

Reserves: 16. Ash Dixon, 17. Angus Ta'avao, 18. Liaki Moli, 19. Sean Polwart, 20. Brenton Helleur, 21. Gareth Anscombe, 22. Winston Stanley.

REFEREE: Vinny Munro