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Preview: Tasman v Canterbury

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Friday, August 5, 2011    Sportal.co.nz    Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: Lansdowne Park, Blenheim, Friday August 5 @ 1805

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 5; Tasman 1, Canterbury 4.

LAST TIME: August 21, 2010 (Nelson) – Tasman 27-25 Canterbury.

WALKING WOUNDED: Tasman only shows three changes from Napier with Joe Wheeler named after recovering from injury, Mark Bright returned to the side and Lucky Mulipola starting on the right wing. Although this is the team's third game in a week, the players appear to bearing up fairly well. Canterbury has also made three changes from the side that played Manawatu, spelling Ash Parker – not many players are replaced by a former All Black skipper but Parker will be since Reuben Thorne takes over – Matt Todd (who is the only mild injury concern) and Willi Heinz, while Tom Taylor returns from injury to take a bench spot.

FORM:
Tasman:
Round 1: lost to Northland 19-9 (a)
Round 2: lost to North Harbour 15-39 (a)
Round 3: lost to Counties-Manukau 23-32 (h)
Round 4: lost to Waikato 6-35 (a)
Round 5: beat Hawke's Bay 21-19 (a)

Canterbury:
Round 1: beat Auckland 40-33 (a)
Round 2: lost to Southland 19-22 (h, RS)
Round 3: lost to Wellington 28-37 (a)
Round 4: beat Manawatu 42-15 (h)

Tasman improved in many areas against Hawke's Bay but the biggest improvement came in one of the basics of the game – tackling. Prior to that match Tasman's defence had been the poorest in the competition but on Tuesday match stats showed them making 131 of 140 tackles, which was the main reason Hawke's Bay battled to get out of its own half. When a team gets penned like that mistakes tend to be costly and Tasman created and then took enough chances to get a well-earned first win of the season. Canterbury got a big win against Manawatu last week but found the going easier when Aaron Cruden left the game after 20 minutes and it needed three long-range tries in the last few minutes to pad the score. The red-and-blacks still did a lot of things well and were value for the five competition points, which keeps them in the Premiership hunt.

WHO'S HOT: Tasman's forwards, individually and collectively, can take a bow after a sterling effort at Napier. They had to do a lot of tackling and did it well, with Sam Prattley leading the way in what must be the best game of his young first-class career – and that was against an all-international front row. Last year James Marshall lit Hawke's Bay up and this time it was Tom's turn, with the younger of the brothers playing a blinder. He has plenty of talent and uses it all. Andrew Goodman supplied the midfield steadiness, controlling things well and making sure the line never wavered. Although he didn't have his best day off the tee, he still provided the crucial points. Canterbury flanker Brendon O'Connor has been good all season with clever link play, aggression at the breakdown and the ability to get out and make tackles. His advance means Canterbury won't suffer through Todd's absence. Mark Swanepoel is in the early stages of his career but looks a good halfback in the making, with a swift clearance and a good knowledge of when to run or kick. He will certainly give his outsides every chance. Sean Maitland is still recovering from a lengthy injury layoff but has lost none of his speed or finishing ability, so he needs to be shut down quickly if the Makos don't want to be scrambling in cover for much of the evening.

WE THINK: It's hard to go past Canterbury in this match – they appear to be moving up through the gears at present – and for all Tasman's best efforts there is, on paper, something of a gap between the sides. With a near-perfect Blenheim night forecast, Canterbury should be good enough to win by 15 and take all five points on offer.

TEAMS:

Tasman: 1. Fai Mika, 2. Quentin MacDonald, 3. Sam Prattley, 4. Filipo Levi, 5. Joe Wheeler, 6. Jonathon Poff, 7. Shane Christie, 8. Mark Bright, 9. Shawn Begg, 10. James Marshall, 11. Mitchell Scott, 12. Andrew Goodman (capt), 13. Kieron Fonotia, 14. Lucky Mulipola, 15. Tom Marshall.

Reserves: 16. Francis Smith, 17. Craig Moore, 18. Pablo Heuete or Riki Hoeata, 19. Tevita Kolomatangi, 20. Steve Alfeld, 21. Jack Umaga, 22. Robbie Malneek, 23. Hamish Cochrane.

Canterbury: 1. Paea Fa'anunu, 2. Steve Fualau, 3. Andrew Olorenshaw, 4. Reuben Thorne, 5. Luke Romano, 6. George Whitelock (capt), 7. Brendon O'Connor, 8. Nasi Manu, 9. Mark Swanepoel, 10. Tyler Bleyendaal, 11. Patrick Osborne, 12. Ryan Crotty, 13. Robbie Fruean, 14. Telusa Veainu, 15. Sean Maitland.

Reserves: 16. Ben Funnell, 17. Nepo Laulala, 18. Ash Parker, 19. Luke Whitelock, 20. Willi Heinz, 21. Tom Taylor, 22. Johnny McNicholl, 23. Sam Cottam.

REFEREE: Keith Brown