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Preview: Tasman v Counties Manukau

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Friday, July 22, 2011    Sportal.co.nz    Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: Lansdowne Park, Blenheim, Sunday July 24 @1635

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 2; Tasman 1 win, Counties-Manukau 1.

LAST TIME: September 2, 2010 (Pukekohe) – Counties-Manukau 23-3 Tasman.

WALKING WOUNDED: Tasman has only one change to its matchday 23, with Tom Marshall making a welcome return at fullback after an excellent Crusaders season. There are a couple of brackets in the tight five, with Kieran Keane waiting until closer to the time before making a final call. Milton Haig has made a ton of changes but the side is no weaker for that. He has gone with a tall middle row and a veteran midfield, where Tasesa Lavea and Niva Ta'auso get starts in the five-eighths. Most of the replaced players have found bench spots for this game, so his squad is holding up pretty well at present.

FORM:
Tasman:
Round 1: lost to Northland 19-9 (a)
Round 2: lost to North Harbour 15-39 (a)

Counties-Manukau:
Round 1: lost to Bay of Plenty 13-20 (h)
Round 2: beat Manawatu 32-25 (h)

Tasman played a good first 40 at Albany and led 15-6 at the break but was run over in the second spell, especially during a killing 14-minute burst when North Harbour scored four tries. Tackling became something of an issue as the whole team looked a little tired at the end. That said, the first half featured a lot of good play and a couple of well-taken tries. Counties-Manukau had to work hard to shake Manawatu and did so mainly through a lot of pressure, some outstanding goal-kicking from James Semple (8 from 9, 22 points) and a strong effort from the forwards, who controlled territory in the closing stages. That win was a good one after a narrow first-round loss and the Steelers will be better for getting an eye open.

WHO'S HOT: Veteran Makos No 8 Mark Bright always brings control to his position and is ever-ready to cart the ball up, get in support or make his tackles. His contribution will be an important one all season. Riki Hoeata looked useful in his debut, winning some good lineout ball and doing damage around the field; he is a good young forward in the making. Tom Marshall, on the back of a full season with the Crusaders, will be given the freedom to roam and has the ability to bust defences wide open in an instant, as well as providing a more than handy second goal-kicking option. Ronald Raaymakers has impressed in his so-far short ITM Cup career, both in the tight and around the field. He provides a third tall target for Grant Henson at the lineout, while the veteran hooker will also be prominent around the paddock and no doubt will often be seen in the tough, close-quarter exchanges. Fullback Ahsee Tuala was an excitement machine in 2010, scoring some outstanding tries and having a few moments he'd rather forget. For all that, the game was more interesting when he was involved and he'll be looking plenty of chances this Sunday.

WE THINK: Tasman, as one of the smaller unions in the competition, does not have the depth of some and the regulars have to do a lot of work. Counties-Manukau has more depth and can freshen its players a little better while the game-breakers do have that vital high-end speed, which mean the Steelers will start as favourites to win with a 10-15 point margin.

TEAMS:

Tasman: 1. Sam Prattley or Craig Moore, 2. Francis Smith, 3. Fai Mika, 4. Riki Hoeata or Pablo Heuete, 5. Joe Wheeler, 6. Jonathon Poff, 7. Shane Christie, 8. Mark Bright, 9. Steve Alfeld, 10. James Marshall, 11. Mitchell Scott, 12. Andrew Goodman (capt), 13. Kieron Fonotia, 14. Robbie Malneek, 15. Tom Marshall.

Reserves: 16. Quentin MacDonald, 17. Moore or Prattley, 18. Heuete or Hoeata, 19. Liam Squire, 20. Shawn Begg, 21. James Proctor, 22. Jack Umaga, 23. James Hadfield.


Counties-Manukau: 1. Simon Lemalu, 2. Grant Henson, 3. Ihipa Thompson, 4. Taiasina Tuifua, 5. Jamie Chipman (capt), 6. Ronald Raaymakers, 7. Mark Selwyn, 8. Fritz Lee, 9. August Pulu, 10. Tasesa Lavea, 11. Sherwin Stowers, 12. Niva Ta'auso, 13. Bundee Aki, 14. Tyrone Lefau, 15. Ahsee Tuala.

Reserves: 16. Mark Price, 17. Jeremiah Fatialofa or Pete Hale, 18. Adam Cathcart, 19. DJ Forbes, 20. David Bason, 21. James Semple, 22. Siale Piutau or Reynold Lee-Lo, 23. Matt Talaese.



REFEREE: Nick Briant