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Preview: Tasman v Auckland

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011    Sportal.co.nz    Getty Images

Any such mistakes this week could end Auckland's Premiership hopes, so minds on the job is crucial.

VENUE & TIME: Trafalgar Park, Nelson, Tuesday August 16 @ 1935

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 3; Tasman 1, Auckland 2.

LAST TIME: October 24, 2010 (Auckland) – Auckland 49-10 Tasman.

WALKING WOUNDED: Tasman lost Filipo Levi to Samoa's World Cup squad after last week but has otherwise retained the same 23 as played at New Plymouth. There have been three swaps between the bench and starting XV, while Liam Squire comes back into the team. Auckland has made five changes, including the now-fit Peter Saili after his rib damage has healed and spelling some players who have started most or all games so far.

FORM:
Tasman:
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)
Round 6: lost to Canterbury 32-36 (h)
Round 7: lost to Taranaki 23-26 (a)

Auckland:
Round 3: beat Wellington 21-17 (a)
Round 4: lost to Taranaki 11-39 (a)
Round 5: beat Southland 39-26 (h)
Round 6: beat North Harbour 29-13 (a)
Round 7: beat Counties-Manukau 25-22 (h)

Tasman's last five results may show four losses and a solitary win, but the Makos have gradually worked into their season and are playing much better now than a month ago. They have collected seven points from the last three outings and dominated much of the Taranaki match, only to lose it in a bad ten minutes. Now mathematically removed from playoff contention, the Makos still have a lot to prove, to themselves as much as anyone, and will see this match as a chance to do just that. Auckland was lucky to escape with a win against Counties-Manukau, since the Steelers appeared to score the winning try only to have it over-ruled on a technical penalty – correct by the law book but one of the first times this particular penalty has been called all season despite its regular occurrence. Auckland had battled to make much headway and needed Gareth Anscombe and his trusty right boot to keep them in the game and then ahead as time ran out. Although Auckland is still within shouting distance of the Premiership final, it needs to play more complete 80-minute matches if it is to retain a realistic chance at the title.

WHO'S HOT: Joe Wheeler had his usual strong game at New Plymouth and got through a power of work around the field. Now settled after a slowish start thanks to injury, he has become one of Tasman's influential players in the improving pack. Tasman's midfield duo of Andrew Goodman and Kieron Fonotia gave Taranaki all kinds of problems, with Goodman keeping the board ticking over thanks to accurate kicking and an early try. Fonotia frequently challenged the line and made breaks, one of which led to a try and one that should have. He has come on well this season. Tevita Mailau can always be relied upon for a solid effort; his scrummaging is powerful and he does the hard yards around the fringes on either side of the ball. Sean Polwart is another who works hard every time out, and is becoming one of Auckland's go-to players. He might not be seen in the open too much but that's because he's working in the trenches. Piers Francis has not had much game time for Auckland so far but gets his chance in this match; from the little we have seen of him he looks a talented young player with a good skill set.

WE THINK: Auckland should win this match if everyone's mind is on the job, and you can rest assured they've been reminded of the 2009 visit to Nelson. After a slow start the blue-and-whites are not out of finals contention yet and need these points to advance. Despite Tasman's much better form of recent times, Auckland should be ten points the better team.

TEAMS:

Tasman: 1. Fai Mika, 2. Quentin MacDonald, 3. Sam Prattley, 4. Pablo Heuete, 5. Joe Wheeler, 6. Liam Squire, 7. Shane Christie, 8. Mark Bright, 9. Steve Alfeld, 10. James Marshall, 11. Lucky Mulipola, 12. Andrew Goodman (capt), 13. Kieron Fonotia, 14. Robbie Malneek, 15. Tom Marshall.

Reserves: 16. Francis Smith, 17. Craig Moore, 18. Tevita Kolomatangi, 19. Vernon Fredricks, 20. Shawn Begg, 21. Jack Umaga, 22. Mitchell Scott, 23. Hamish Cochrane.


Auckland: 1. Tom McCartney (capt), 2. Ash Dixon, 3. Tevita Mailau, 4. Josh Townsend, 5. Steve Luatua, 6. Peter Saili, 7. Sean Polwart, 8. Chris Lowrey, 9. Toby Morland, 10. Piers Francis, 11. Charles Piutau, 12. Teddy Stanaway, 13. Hadleigh Parkes, 14. Joe Rokocoko, 15. Brent Ward.

Reserves: 16. Pauliasi Manu, 17. Charlie Faumuina, 18. Liaki Moli, 19. Sam Henwood, 20. Alby Mathewson, 21. Gareth Anscombe, 22. Francis Saili, 23. Angus Ta'avao.



REFEREE: Mike Fraser