Preview: Auckland v Bay of Plenty

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Friday, August 19, 2011    Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: Eden Park, Auckland, Saturday August 20 @ 1435 HEAD TO HEAD: Played 57; Auckland 46, Bay of Plenty 11. LAST TIME: August 14, 2010 (Mt Maunganui) – Bay of Plenty 6-11 Auckland. WALKING WOUNDED: Auckland has made plenty of changes from Tuesday's match, although most of the players who have been replaced will be on the bench. One who won't be is Josh Townsend, whose wretched run of injuries continued at Nelson. Dave Thomas, who has also suffered through an injury-disrupted career to date, returns after a long rehab from a knee problem. After weeks of being sure in his selections, Sean Horan has a whole bunch of brackets in the team and on the bench. The only two confirmed changes are at tighthead prop, where Bronson Murray starts, lock (Leon Power moves up from the bench) and first-five where Chris Noakes gets the job. FORM: Auckland: 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) Round 8: lost to Tasman 28-30 (a) Bay of Plenty: Round 3: beat Waikato 36-8 (h) Round 4: beat Wellington 32-0 (h) Round 5: lost to Northland 23-30 (a) Round 6: lost to Taranaki 33-39 (a) Round 7: lost to Hawke's Bay 13-32 (h) After looking as if it had got its act together, Auckland has turned in a couple of insipid performances in its last two outings. Sure, the blue-and-whites beat Counties but must be reckoned lucky to do so and there was no wriggling off the hook at Nelson on Tuesday. Auckland had more than its share of both territory and possession but did not make as good use of the ball as Tasman, who scored three excellent long-range tries. Skipper Tom McCartney was scathing about Auckland's breakdown work after the game and had a valid point, as Tasman did most of the cleaning out in that match. Bay of Plenty continued its slide from the highs of four straight wins to open the competition when it took a thorough mauling from Hawke's Bay at Rotorua, in the union's 100th Jubilee match. Not long into that match it was clear the Magpies were well on top and the gap between the sides only grew wider as time passed. If Bay of Plenty's season is not to vanish almost without trace a far more cohesive effort and, more importantly, a win of any description at Auckland is not just desirable but absolutely necessary. WHO'S HOT: Although his season has been interrupted by injury, Peter Saili has not really been the force Auckland would have wanted. At his best he is a damaging ball-carrier and an even more damaging tackler. Chris Lowrey has been one of the constants in Auckland's pack, with consistent performances through the year. Although not the tallest man going around he is a good lineout option and secure on his own ball, while his general play is always robust and decisive. Joe Rokocoko plays his last game on Eden Park (for the meantime) and would like to see a bit of usable ball to mark the occasion. Apart from two tries in a few minutes against Otago, his pickings have been lean in 2011. Bay flanker Luke Braid worked tirelessly in a losing cause last week and led by example when he took over the captaincy. His late try, while it did nothing to the result, was fair reward for hard work on a tough night. Jamie Nutbrown did most things well, even when under pressure, and got the backline going smartly while he also had a couple of darts that caused trouble for the defence. Lelia Masaga was prominent early on but faded as the game played out; he is one of the most dangerous wings in the competition so the Bay will be looking to get him some decent ball this week. WE THINK: If you know how this one will turn out, go drop a few bucks on it at the TAB. It is the hardest game of the round to call, simply because both sides are in something of a decline and trying to work out which one can arrest that is a nightmare. Bay of Plenty possibly has the heavier artillery but those big guns need to fire; if they do, a five to ten point win is on the cards. TEAMS: Auckland: 1. Pauliasi Manu, 2. Tom McCartney (capt), 3. Charlie Faumuina, 4. Liaki Moli, 5. Chris Lowrey, 6. Nathan Hughes, 7. Sean Polwart, 8. Peter Saili, 9. Alby Mathewson, 10. Gareth Anscombe, 11. George Moala, 12. Winston Stanley, 13. Hadleigh Parkes, 14. Joe Rokocoko, 15.Dave Thomas . Reserves: 16. Ash Dixon, 17. Angus Ta'avao, 18. Steve Luatua, 19. Sam Henwood, 20. Toby Morland, 21. Piers Francis, 22. Brent Ward, 23. Tevita Mailau. Bay of Plenty: 1. Tristan Moran, 2. John Pareanga, 3. Bronson Murray, 4. Leon Power, 5. Culum Retallick or Luke Andrews, 6. Tanerau Latimer, 7. Luke Braid, 8. Colin Bourke (capt), 9. Jamie Nutbrown, 10. Chris Noakes, 11. Jason Hona or Ben W Smith, 12. Steve Kefu or Hona, 13. Phil Burleigh, 14. Lelia Masaga, 15. Toby Arnold. Reserves: 16. Daniel Perrin, 17. Greg Pleasants-Tate, 18. Andrews or Leighton Price, 19. Sam Cane, 20. Josh Hall, 21. Daniel Waenga or Nick McCashin, 22. Smith or Lance MacDonald, 23. Josh Hohneck. REFEREE: Richard Kelly