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ITM Cup Preview: Manawatu v Waikato

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010    Sportal.co.nz    Getty Images

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 23 – Manawatu 4, Waikato 17, drawn 2.

LAST TIME:
August 8, 2009 (Hamilton) – Waikato 30-22 Manawatu.

LAST TIME AT VENUE:
August 14, 2008 – Manawatu 38-38 Waikato.

WALKING WOUNDED:
Manawatu has named its least-changed side of the year; the only personnel change sees one rugged midfielder in Johnny Leota replace another in Frank Bryant, while Shannon Paku and Craig Clare swap jerseys. Waikato didn’t have many problems naming its side this week although Tawera Kerr-Barlow (ribs) and Dominiko Waqaniborotu (knee) have been ruled out. If a team's fourth halfback is David Bason, they're not in bad shape.

FORM:


PAST FIVE Manawatu:

Round 7: Lost to Bay of Plenty 13-41
Round 8: Lost to Auckland 6-32
Round 9: Lost to North Harbour 30-44
Round 10: Beat Tasman 20-8
Round 11: Lost to Taranaki 16-30

PAST FIVE Waikato:

Round 7: Drew with Hawke's Bay 27-27
Round 8: Lost to Southland 6-7
Round 9: Beat Tasman 33-15
Round 10: Beat Northland 45-33
Round 11: Beat Otago 41-15

Manawatu had its moments against Taranaki and there was a time in the second spell it looked as if an upset was on, but in the end Taranaki's superior skill took them clear even if the third try came from a fairly clear forward pass that went uncalled. The end of the tunnel is in sight for Manawatu and that light is no longer a train – it's the beach after what can only be described as a disappointing year.Waikato have a playoff date looming; they've slipped up into third place without making too much fuss and can virtually lock up a top four spot with a win in this match. Despite a large number of errors last week, Waikato was far too good for Otago and easily took all five points.

WHO'S HOT:
Once again Aaron Cruden looked a class above this level and was the dominant figure last week. His general play is very sound and his goal-kicking average is currently 79 percent. Hamish Gosling can look back on a good season's work for Manawatu; if there's any justice he can also look forward to hearing from a Super rugby team soon. Shannon Paku had his moments and a switch to fullback may allow him to get more involved on either side of the park. Stephen Donald has made a massive difference for Waikato and the team has posted three decent wins in his starts; Donald has contributed 69 points and landed 22 of 23 goal attempts in the process. After a modest game at Whangarei, Alex Bradley was again strong against Otago and was involved in a lot of play. Save Tokula was dangerous when he had the ball in hand but getting it to stay there was a problem; he broke tackles all night but made far too many handling errors for a guy of his ability and if he can fix those errors he could really carve up this week.

WE THINK:
It's hard to see anything other than a big Waikato win and a bonus point in this one – nope, looked everywhere but can't find any other viable option. The only thing that will prevent it is Waikato having a collective doze but, with the playoffs so close, it's hard to see that being allowed to happen either.

TEAMS
:

Manawatu:
1. Grant Polson (captain), 2. Rob Foreman, 3. Ma'afu Fia, 4. Michael Fitzgerald, 5. Fraser Stone, 6. James Oliver, 7. Callum Gibbins, 8. Hamish Gosling, 9. Aaron Smith, 10. Aaron Cruden, 11. Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 12. Johnny Leota, 13. Hadleigh Parkes, 14. Craig Clare, 15. Shannon Paku.
Reserves: 16. Sean O'Connor, 17. Donal McNamara, 18. Reece Robinson, 19. Doug Tietjens, 20. Karl Bryson, 21. Isaac Thompson, 22. Casey Stone.

Waikato:
1. Ben May, 2. Vern Kamo, 3. Nathan White (captain), 4. Toby Lynn, 5. Romana Graham, 6. Matt Vant Leven, 7. Jack Lam, 8. Alex Bradley, 9. Malcolm Barnes, 10. Stephen Donald, 11. Henry Speight, 12. Jackson Willison, 13. Save Tokula, 14. Sosene Anesi, 15. Mils Muliaina.
Reserves: 16. Hikairo Forbes, 17. Toby Smith, 18. Kent Fife, 19. Zack Hohneck, 20. David Bason, 21. Christian Leali’ifano, 22. Dwayne Sweeney.

REFEREE:
Chris Pollock