Preview: Counties Manukau v Bay of Plenty

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Friday, July 15, 2011    Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: Growers Stadium, Pukekohe, Sunday July 17 @ 1635

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 52; Counties-Manukau 25 wins, Bay of Plenty 26, drawn 1.

LAST TIME: September 19, 2010 (Mt Maunganui) – Bay of Plenty 24-21 Counties-Manukau.

WALKING WOUNDED: Counties-Manukau had several players involved in the Pacific Nations Cup and none have been selected for this match. Several who made big advances 12 months ago return, as does veteran centre Niva Ta'auso after time overseas. Bay of Plenty had most players available, although Luke Braid wasn't considered after a heavy Super rugby season. Colin Bourke has recovered after a long shoulder rehab and resumes as captain. Jamie Nutbrown and former Wallaby Steve Kefu are interesting additions to a sharp backline, with Daniel Waenga taking over at first-five from the departed Mike Delany.

FORM: Counties-Manukau lost to both Waikato and North Harbour in the pre-season, with their better effort coming in the first match. Bay of Plenty played four matches, splitting two against Taranaki, losing to Hawke's Bay and beating Manawatu; the lack of consistency may be a worry but the best rugby they displayed was pretty good.

WHO'S HOT: Counties-Manukau had two of the biggest improvers in 2010 in their pack, and Jamie Chipman and Fritz Lee return as well-established provincial reps. Chipman did a good job at lock and, particularly, the lineout while his captaincy was very mature. Lee became one of the most impressive loose forwards in the competition and will only be better after a good season with the Chiefs. Siale Piutau was another who made good progress at the higher level earlier in the year. Bay of Plenty can field one of the more experienced sides in the competition and there are plenty of established players in the ranks. Culum Retallick is always good; look to him to control the lineouts for his side and offer plenty around the park. Bourke was in fine form before his injury – although he wasn't chosen, his name was tossed around in end-of-year tour speculation - and leads a multi-talented loose trio, while Nutbrown brings a wise head and calm control to the halfback role.

WE THINK: Bay of Plenty should win this match, although they will have to take care not to let the Steelers take advantage of loose ball or missed tackles. The big Steamers pack should be able to control the tempo, which in turn should lead to victory although the margin promises to be a few points at the most.

Note that each team will name 23 players in 2011, with three-front row forwards among the eight reserves.

Counties-Manukau: 1. Ihipa Thompson, 2. Grant Henson, 3. Jeremiah Fatialofa, 4. Ronald Raaymakers, 5. Jamie Chipman (capt), 6. DJ Forbes, 7. Mark Selwyn, 8. Fritz Lee, 9. August Pulu, 10. James Semple, 11. Sherwin Stowers, 12. Niva Ta'auso, 13. Siale Piutau, 14. Tyrone Lefau, 15. Ahsee Tuala.

Reserves: 16. Mark Price, 17. Maka Tatafu, 18. Sileki Nabou, 19. Adam Cathcart, 20. David Bason, 21. Reynold Lee-Lo, 22. Bundee Aki, 23. Matt Talaese.

Bay of Plenty: 1. Tristan Moran, 2. Daniel Perrin, 3. Josh Hohneck, 4. Luke Andrews, 5. Culum Retallick, 6. Tanerau Latimer, 7. Sam Cane, 8. Colin Bourke (capt), 9. Jamie Nutbrown, 10. Daniel Waenga, 11. Jason Hona, 12. Steve Kefu, 13. Phil Burleigh, 14. Lelia Masaga, 15. Toby Arnold.

Reserves: 16. John Pareanga, 17. Bronson Murray, 18. Pingi Tala'apitanga, 19. Leon Power, 20. Carl Axtens, 21. Taniela Moa, 22. Chris Noakes, 23. Lance MacDonald.

REFEREE: Shaun Elliott