Preview: Waikato v Taranaki

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011    Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: Waikato Stadium, Hamilton, Thursday July 21 @ 1935

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 75; Waikato 40 wins, Taranaki 29, drawn 6.

LAST TIME: August 15, 2010 (Hamilton) – Waikato 23-33 Taranaki.

WALKING WOUNDED: Sitiveni Sivivatu headed off to the All Blacks this week but Chris Gibbes didn't have too many problems with his lineup and has made only three changes from last Friday. Taranaki lost Andrew Hore to the All Blacks, as well as Kurt Baker (shoulder) and Frazer Climo (hamstring) to the MASH tent. Sevens rep Jackson Ormond makes his debut on the wing, with Andre Taylor going to fullback. Samoan internationals Mahonri Schwalger and George Pisi, although keen to play, were not selected following their quick return from Sydney.

Round 1: beat Southland 19-9 (a)

Round 1: lost to Wellington 5-23 (h)

Waikato played well in squeezing Southland out of the match on a miserable night at Invercargill, muscling up in the forwards and playing the percentages behind the scrum. They also turned over plenty of ball and forced the Stags to make plenty of tackles, although only one try resulted. That said, it was a good start for the Mooloo men in a tricky opener. Taranaki made a hash of its match against Wellington, missing tackles and getting beaten for territory in the second spell on a night when winning the ground game was important. On top of that, several chances went begging when they really had to be taken and the margin would have been even bigger had Wellington not wasted 13 points off the tee.

WHO'S HOT: Stephen Donald was the dominant figure at Invercargill with his ability to play the percentages, kick well for ground and perfectly (5 from 5) for goal as well as scoring the only try. The front row relished the conditions and all made contributions with Nathan White leading by example. Veteran Marty Holah also looked instantly at home on his return to the Waikato jersey. Gibbes will, however, be looking for a little more discipline as he twice lost players to the bin after punch-ups. Taranaki had chances but did little right when it counted last week so Ben Souness, a talented ball-player, has been introduced on the blindside and his effort will be closely monitored by the Waikato loosies, who won't want to allow him much room. Taranaki will also want bruising Samuela Vunisa to get a few good carries in, as he can be a real menace to the defence. Andre Taylor has often proved a handful from fullback and his ability to return kicks for good gains can be match-turning if he's allowed to run.

WE THINK: Waikato retained the Ryan Wheeler Memorial trophy comfortably in the pre-season and looked the much better outfit last weekend, so tipping against them is only for the brave. You won't find that call here; Waikato by maybe ten points looks the safe option.

Waikato: 1. Toby Smith, 2. Aled de Malmanche, 3. Nathan White (capt), 4. Toby Lynn, 5. Romana Graham, 6. Matt Vant Leven, 7. Marty Holah, 8. Rory Grice, 9. Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 10. Stephen Donald, 11. Declan O'Donnell, 12. Jackson Willison, 13. Save Tokula, 14. Henry Speight, 15. Trent Renata.

Reserves: 16. Marcel Cummings-Toone or Ted Tauroa, 17. Ben May, 18. Jack Lam, 19. Chris Middleton, 20. Brendon Leonard, 21. Sam Christie, 22. Tim Mikkelson, 23. Latu Talakai.

Taranaki: 1. Carl Carmichael, 2. Laurence Corlett, 3. Michael Bent, 4. Jason Eaton, 5. Craig Clarke (capt), 6. Ben Souness, 7. Scott Waldrom, 8. Samuela Vunisa, 9. Tyson Keats, 10. Beauden Barrett, 11. Jackson Ormond, 12. Jayden Hayward, 13. Isaia Tuifua, 14. Waisake Naholo, 15. Andre Taylor.

Reserves: 16. Timo Tutavaha, 17. Shane Cleaver, 18. Blade Thomson, 19. Chris Walker, 20. Brett Goodin, 21. Jack Cameron, 22. Willie Rickards, 23. Willie Ioane.

REFEREE: Kane McBride