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ITM Cup Preview: Auckland v Hawke's Bay

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Thursday, September 30, 2010    Sportal.co.nz    Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: Eden Park, Auckland, Friday October 1, 19.35 NZT.

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 73 – Auckland 52, Hawke's Bay 17, drawn 4.

LAST TIME: August 1, 2009 (Napier) – Hawke's Bay 47-13 Auckland.

LAST TIME AT VENUE: October 13, 2007 – Auckland 38-3 Hawke's Bay (SF).

MATCH ODDS: NZ TAB (Tuesday): Auckland $1.33, Hawke's Bay $3.10.

WALKING WOUNDED: Apart from shaking up the numbers in the outside backs, Auckland has made only one change, with Joe Rokocoko coming onto the bench. Jamie Helleur is the player who misses out; Winston Stanley moves up from the reserves. Hawke's Bay is without Zac Guildford, on his way to the Commonwealth Games, but Israel Dagg returns from post-test stand-down. In anticipation of a rugged forward encounter Peter Russell has gone for a five-two bench split, with three front-rowers named among the reserves.

FORM:

PAST FIVE Auckland:
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
Round 9: Lost to Southland 6-9 (RS)

PAST FIVE Hawke's Bay:
Round 5: Beat Manawatu 17-9
Round 6: Lost to Otago 16-17
Round 7: Drew with Waikato 27-27
Round 8: Lost to Wellington 13-17
Round 9: Beat Taranaki 32-24

Although Auckland came up short in its Shield challenge last weekend, it wasn't for want of trying. The blue-and-whites even came within who knows how many millimetres of scoring late in the first spell but nothing could be seen under a pile of bodies and no try was awarded. Auckland certainly tries to the end but, as others have before them and more will do in the future, found no way through the Stags' brick-wall defence. For the first half hour at Napier last week it was as if spectators had been time-warped back a year or two, and were watching Hawke's Bay play the sort of dynamic rugby that won many games and more friends. For that period Taranaki could not live with the Magpies and a 25-0 lead was enough, even if the visitors did make a strong comeback. By far the Bay's best performance of the year, that game fully merited the five points collected.

WHO'S HOT: Daniel Braid was into everything at Invercargill until he got caught awkwardly by Tony Koonwaiyou's barging run and had to leave the field. At that point Auckland lost an important part of its game, despite the best efforts of others. Andrew van der Heijden and Tom McCartney were others who toiled hard in difficult conditions. It was hardly a night for backs, but all the Aucklanders did tackle hard and accurately. Hawke's Bay, as in so many games this season, were led from the front by Hikawera Elliot, whose form is the best of his career. The backline looked a lot more assured and took good advantage of the quality ball being served up, due in no small part to Ryan McLeod's steady hand at second-five and Jason Shoemark having the greater freedom allowed at centre. Both scored tries and had good games.

WE THINK: Well as Hawke's Bay played last week, there's still no getting around the fact Auckland's defence will be significantly harder to breach than Taranaki's was. Auckland has conceded no tries in the last three games and this factor was the key one in our call for Auckland by 10-12 points, which could be more if Auckland actually gets to play on a dry pitch.

TEAMS:

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. Brent Ward, 12. Benson Stanley, 13. Winston Stanley, 14. Dave Thomas, 15. Chay Raui.

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

Hawke's Bay: 1. Kas Lealamanua, 2. Hikawera Elliot, 3. Anthony Perenise, 4. Bryn Evans, 5. Ross Kennedy, 6. Trent Boswell-Wakefield, 7. Karl Lowe, 8. Mike Coman, 9. Chris Eaton, 10. Kahn Fotuali'i, 11. Sinoti Sinoti, 12. Ryan McLeod, 13. Jason Shoemark (captain), 14. Mark Jackman, 15. Israel Dagg.

Reserves: 16. Eugene Smith, 17. Jody Allen, 18. Whetu Barber, 19. Brodie Retallick, 20. Michael Johnson, 21. Daniel Kirkpatrick, 22. Gillies Kaka.

REFEREE: Bryce Lawrence