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ITM Cup semi-final preview: Auckland v Waikato

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Friday, October 29, 2010    Sportal.co.nz    Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: Eden Park, Auckland, Saturday October 30, 19.05 NZT.

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 134 – Auckland 93, Waikato 36, drawn 5.

LAST TIME: October 24, 2009 (Auckland) – Auckland 18-21 Waikato (round 2).

LAST TIME AT VENUE: As above.

MATCH ODDS: NZ TAB (Tuesday): Auckland $1.50, Waikato $2.50.

WALKING WOUNDED: Both teams had injury concerns through the week. Auckland had a list of four, with Andrew van der Heijden definitely out after breaking his arm against Tasman. The others were day-to-day: Gareth Anscombe, with a foot problem, Dave Thomas, who sprained an ankle, and Ben Atiga, with a thumb injury, were racing the clock to get ready but all made it. Waikato had issues of its own: Matt Vant Leven, who suffered a head knock and has a badly cut mouth, misses out while Alex Bradley needed time to get over a hit from Steve Fualau and Sosene Anesi will have visible facial scars from last week’s battle. Sitiveni Sivivatu has some knee issues, but Waikato was playing this one close to the chest and he is bracketed in the starting lineup with Henry Speight.

FORM:

SEASON TO DATE Auckland:
Round 1: Beat North Harbour 36-14
Round 2: Lost to Waikato 18-21
Round 3: Beat Bay of Plenty 11-6
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
Round 9: Lost to Southland 6-9 (RS)
Round 10: Drew with Hawke’s Bay 34-34
Round 11: Beat Counties-Manukau 37-13
Round 12: Beat Otago 39-11
Round 13: Beat Tasman 49-10

SEASON TO DATE Waikato:
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 5: Beat Counties-Manukau 39-3
Round 6: Beat North Harbour 36-27
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
Round 12: Beat Manawatu 27-25
Round 13: Beat Canterbury 26-6

Both these sides have made strong runs to the finish, with Auckland finding its scoring mojo in the last month and running up four consecutive 30-pointers on its way to second place on the table. After a solid start that owed a lot more to punishing defence that devastating attack, Auckland now has its game in better balance although the defence remains rock-soild; its 200 points conceded was, by a long way, the lowest in the competition. Waikato also rattled home, winning five straight and playing very impressively last week as it thumped Canterbury by 20 clear points. The forwards gave their best display of the season, both individually and collectively, and used the scrum and loose exchanges to set the platform for ultimate victory. While some have been a little critical that Waikato didn’t try for a bonus point a win was essential and at no stage did the Mooloos let their foot (or is it hoof?) off Canterbury’s neck.

WHO'S HOT: Gareth Anscombe tore it up for Auckland last week, scoring 34 points including three tries to set a new Auckland record for a championship match. He has impressed since coming into the team a few weeks back. Liaki Moli, who has enjoyed a good debut season, returns at lock and the front row has been nothing but strong all year. Look for Dave Thomas, who is always impressive on kick chase, to put Waikato’s back three under pressure this week. Waikato really knuckled down in the forwards, where Aled de Malmanche and Alex Bradley played as well as anyone, but were very little superior to the rest of a committed eight. Both made major contributions to the physical domination Waikato ultimately achieved. Trent Renata played a cool hand and was hot off the tee, landing six goals from seven attempts, while Sosene Anesi soaked up some punishment but was still the old pro at the back.

WE THINK: This game almost goes into the ‘too tough to call’ basket, but we’re obliged to stick our necks out. So, after long consideration, we’ll go for Auckland, as much as anything because they don’t have to recover from the smashing that the Waikato forwards took last week. We’ve seen several teams take a while to get going again after a match like that in 2010, and think the home side should get up narrowly.

TEAMS:

Auckland: 1. Tevita Mailau, 2. Tom McCartney, 3. Charlie Faumuina, 4. Kurtis Haiu, 5. Liaki Moli, 6. Onosai’i Auva’a, 7. Sean Polwart, 8. Peter Saili, 9. Toby Morland, 10. Gareth Anscombe, 11. Chay Raui, 12. Benson Stanley (captain), 13. Ben Atiga, 14. Dave Thomas, 15. Brent Ward.

Reserves: 16. Ash Dixon, 17. Angus Ta’avao, 18. Steven Luatua, 19. Chris Lowery, 20. Auvasa Faleali’i, 21. Matt Berquist, 22. Winston Stanley.

Waikato: 1. Toby Smith, 2. Aled de Malmanche, 3. Nathan White (captain), 4. Toby Lynn, 5. Romana Graham, 6. Dominiko Waqaniburotu, 7. Jack Lam, 8. Alex Bradley, 9. Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 10. Trent Renata, 11. Dwayne Sweeney, 12. Jackson Willison, 13. Save Tokula, 14. Sitiveni Sivivatu or Henry Speight, 15. Sosene Anesi.

Reserves: 16. Hikairo Forbes, 17. Ben May, 18. Kent Fife, 19. Zack Hohneck, 20. Malcolm Barnes, 21. Christian Leali’ifano, 22. Speight or Tim Mikkelson.

REFEREE: Chris Pollock