Preview: Southland v Counties

Getty Images

Friday, July 29, 2011    Getty Images

This year the Steelers want to show how well they have learned those tough lessons.

VENUE & TIME: Rugby Park, Invercargill, Friday July 29 @ 1805

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 25; Southland 8 wins, Counties-Manukau 15, drawn 2.

LAST TIME: April 25, 2010 (Invercargill, RS) – Southland 13-9 Counties-Manukau.

WALKING WOUNDED: To nobody's surprise Southland has named exactly the same side as for the successful Christchurch challenge. Counties-Manukau has made a few changes but has named what is very much its top team, as one would expect. The most interesting selection is that of Sherwin Stowers at fullback, where he has more freedom to inject himself into the game.

Round 1: lost to Waikato 9-19 (h)
Round 2: lost to Hawke’s Bay 18-29 (a)
Round 3: beat Canterbury 22-19 (a, RS)

Round 1: lost to Bay of Plenty 13-20 (h)
Round 2: beat Manawatu 32-25 (h)
Round 3: beat Tasman 32-23 (a)

Southland was muddling through its early matches but then it all changed a week ago; any time a team wins the Ranfurly Shield it has a good year. The Stags were outstanding in that match, dominating through the pack and creating sufficient chances for James Wilson to win the Log with his late dropped goal. The Maroons may have only scored one try for a ton of possession, but played a really good challenge and deserved to take the famous old trophy home afterwards. Counties-Manukau got five points at Blenheim – they already knew about this being a Shield match – and did some good things. Extra speed was the key factor in the win and all four tries were shared between Stowers and Ahsee Tuala, who knew where to be and when to be there. The forwards were solid despite getting beaten for territory and caned in the penalty count, never allowing Tasman to get on top. More of the same awaits the big men at Invercargill this week, but against a harder pack to subdue.

WHO'S HOT: Southland had many heroes last week but three stood out. Jamie Mackintosh led from the front and could not have given more for the cause; many of his charges committed two or three tacklers and allowed Southland to keep battering away at the Canterbury defence while his leadership was top-drawer. James Wilson got most of the ink on Sunday for an excellent all-round game and that dropped goal, and all of it was deserved. Further along the line Kendrick Lynn had the better of his duel with Robbie Fruean, slipping the big Canterbury centre several times and containing him for most of the match. As a result, the Southland backs made a number of dangerous raids throughout the contest. No fewer than 13 of this Steelers team will be dead keen to erase year-old memories of a lot of blood and sweat but no Shield, since they took part in what was an outstanding challenge a year ago. Jamie Chipman was a young captain then but he's grown in the role since and will know what is needed from his tight five – and himself, and that effort will be forthcoming. Fritz Lee was just getting his big season under way and he is now a much better player who is a force on either side of the ball and a menace at the breakdown. Siale Piutau will be going up against a lot of his Highlanders mates and will be keen to show that he can be just as good against a southern team as for one; given half a chance, he is the sort of player who can create scored from very little.

WE THINK: Another very strong challenge is in prospect here and the outcome rests on whether Counties can subdue the big Southland forwards. On what the Stags showed at Christchurch it will be tough and these guys grow another leg when they defend the Shield, so Counties will need to be at its absolute best to win. It will be tight and tough, and probably low-scoring, but Southland has to be favoured to retain the Log, even if the score is close.


Southland: 1. Jamie Mackintosh (capt), 2. Jason Rutledge, 3. Chris King, 4. Josh Bekhuis, 5 Joe Tuineau, 6. John Hardie, 7. Tim Boys, 8. Elliot Dixon, 9. Scott Cowan, 10. James Wilson, 11. Tim Cornforth, 12. Matt Saunders, 13. Kendrick Lynn, 14. Glen Horton, 15. Robbie Robinson.

Reserves: 16. David Hall, 17. Nick Barrett, 18. Ben Nally, 19. Kaleni Taituli, 20. Sonny Rangitohereri, 21. Scott Eade, 22. James Lew or Tony Koonwaiyou, 23. Michael Peterson.

Counties-Manukau: 1. Simon Lemalu, 2. Mark Price, 3. Jeremiah Fatialofa, 4. Ronald Raaymakers, 5. Jamie Chipman (capt), 6. Taiasina Tuifua, 7. DJ Forbes, 8. Fritz Lee, 9. Samisoni Fisilau, 10. Tasesa Lavea, 11. Bundee Aki, 12. Reynold Lee-Lo, 13. Siale Piutau, 14. Ahsee Tuala, 15. Sherwin Stowers.

Reserves: 16. Grant Henson, 17. Matt Talaese, 18. Adam Cathcart, 19. Mark Selwyn, 20. David Bason, 21. James Semple, 22. Tyrone Lefau, 23. Ihipa Thompson.

REFEREE: Glen Jackson