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Preview: Waikato v Otago

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Saturday, August 13, 2011    Sportal.co.nz    Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: Waikato Stadium, Hamilton, Sunday August 14 @ 1635

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 49; Waikato 28, Otago 20, drawn 1.

LAST TIME: October 8, 2010 (Hamilton) – Waikato 41-15 Otago.

WALKING WOUNDED: Waikato lost Richard Kahui, who played very well at Christchurch, back to the All Blacks but otherwise the only changes were two at prop and one at halfback, where players were rotated. Tom Donnelly was called into the All Black squad as injury cover for Jarrad Hoeata and he bracketed on the bench this week, his ability to play dependent on Hoeata's shoulder scan. Tony Brown takes over as skipper. Joe Hill has also been ruled out and is replaced by debutant Matt Faddes on the wing but other changes are the semi-standard rotational jobs.

FORM:
Waikato:
Round 2: lost to Taranaki 23-30 (h)
Round 3: lost to Bay of Plenty 8-36 (a)
Round 4: beat Tasman 35-6 (h)
Round 5: beat Counties-Manukau 22-15 (a)
Round 6: beat Canterbury 27-13 (a)

Otago:
Round 2: beat Auckland 32-35 (a)
Round 3: lost to Hawke's Bay 13-27 (a)
Round 4: lost to Northland 17-20 (a)
Round 5: beat Counties-Manukau 30-14 (h)
Round 6: lost to Southland 12-19 (h)

Waikato, after a somewhat slow start, has got its season going with three wins on the trot and the third, at Christchurch midweek, had some very impressive features to it. The best was the flying start Waikato made – the bonus point was banked with less than 25 minutes played – but that was about the end of the scoring. For the rest of the match Waikato made sure Canterbury got no closer and closed the match out without ever giving the other guys a sniff. As a result, they keep moving up the Premiership ladder. Otago, despite pronounced forward superiority at Carisbrook, failed to cross Southland's line and had to be content with a loser's point in the ground's last match. They weren't the first and won't be the last side this year to have trouble breaking the Stags down, but the heavy weight of territory and possession, especially after halftime, should have yielded more than four successful goal attempts. Otago is now in danger of slipping off the pace in the Championship and can't afford too many more losses.

WHO'S HOT: Toby Lynn is doing a stalwart job in the heart of the Waikato pack, proving effective at the lineout and strong around the field; he's even picked up a couple of tries, which have been elusive earlier in his lengthy career. Matt Vant Leven is improving with every outing and his presence adds depth and strength to the Waikato loose forward mix. Normally seen in the tough battles around the breakdown, he is proving valuable to the side. Jackson Willison is an often overlooked but skilful member of the backline who has a wide range of good skills. While he may not be a star like some, he's certainly not one to make mistakes. Otago will field a strong tight five and good loose trio who are used to getting on top this season. Liam Coltman is a young player on the rise who has turned in several strong efforts so far and is rapidly moving up in the Otago hooking stakes. Regan Tamihere has been bothered with a few niggles this year but is a good loose forward who attacks the breakdown and wins a few turnovers. He is also a sound link and needs to match the Waikato trio for industry in this one. Sean Romans will be supplied with plenty of ball by his forwards and how he uses it will be important. He has a game with all the variations and a speedy clearance, so his work will be closely watched.

WE THINK: Waikato should be too good in this match, as its forwards will give nothing to Otago's eight and the Waikato backs have been looking sharper than their southern counterparts recently. All things (particularly concentration levels) being equal, Waikato should be ten points the better side.

TEAMS:

Waikato: 1. Latu Talakai, 2. Marcel Cummings-Toone, 3. Ben May, 4. Toby Lynn, 5. Romana Graham, 6. Matt Vant Leven, 7. Marty Holah (capt), 8. Alex Bradley, 9. Brendon Leonard, 10. Stephen Donald, 11. Tim Mikkelson, 12. Jackson Willison, 13. Save Tokula, 14. Henry Speight, 15. Trent Renata.

Reserves: 16. Vance Elliott, 17. Nathan White, 18. Chris Middleton, 19. Zack Hohneck, 20. Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 21. Sam Christie, 22. Declan O'Donnell, 23. Ted Tauroa.


Otago: 1. James McGougan, 2. Liam Coltman, 3. Kees Meeuws, 4. Daniel Ramsay, 5. Rob Verbakel, 6. TJ Ioane, 7. Regan Tamihere, 8. Gareth Evans, 9. Sean Romans, 10. Tony Brown (capt), 11. Buxton Popoali'i, 12. Glenn Dickson, 13. Jayden Spence, 14. Matt Faddes, 15. Ben R Smith.

Reserves: 16. Jason MacDonald, 17. Pieter van der Merwe, 18. Tom Donnelly or Tom Franklin, 19. Adam Hill, 20. Johnny Legg, 21. Hayden Parker, 22. Ben Atiga, 23. Scott Manson.



REFEREE: Mike Fraser