Preview: Waikato v Canterbury

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Saturday, September 3, 2011    Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: Waikato Stadium, Hamilton, Saturday September 3 @ 1935

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 45; Waikato 18, Canterbury 26, drawn 1.

LAST TIME: August 10, 2011 (Christchurch) – Canterbury 13-27 Waikato.

WALKING WOUNDED: Waikato have made one enforced change from the team that beat Auckland, with Save Tokula (hamstring) dropping out and he is replaced by Sam Christie; Jackson Willison moves to centre. Sitiveni Sivivatu is on the bench after recovering from a fractured eye-socket received playing for the All Blacks. Canterbury have made two changes in the outside backs from the Otago match, with Telusa Veainu and Sean Maitland coming at wing and fullback respectively.

Round 6: beat Canterbury 27-13 (a)
Round 7: beat Otago 25-10 (h)
Round 8: lost to Manawatu 20-54 (a)
Round 9: beat Wellington 31-27 (h)
Round 10: beat Auckland 26-19 (h)

Round 6: lost to Waikato 13-27 (h)
Round 7: beat Northland 28-13 (h)
Round 8: beat Taranaki 27-0 (h)
Round 9: lost to Bay of Plenty 31-35 (a)
Round 10: beat Otago 29-16 (a)

Both sides were a little off their best last week as each was, perhaps, pressing for a fourth try before the match was actually won. Waikato should have cleaned up against Auckland, as it made most of the running, but abominable handling killed off chance after chance and the 22 fumbles included several within metres of an undefended goal-line. There was always a feeling that Waikato could score that fourth try needed to secure a final place, but it took until injury time – and an Auckland turnover – to finally let the Mooloos break out and get it. Waikato has put together a solid season, with the only real blemishes two hidings at the hands of Bay of Plenty and Manawatu; its best performance came in the opening half-hour at Christchurch when it won the game in that time. When Canterbury kicked off last Saturday it knew that a win would secure a place in the final but a fourth try was needed to make it a home game, and the win was a long time being secured against a committed Otago team. The final margin looks comfortable enough on paper but it took a Robbie Fruean intercept and 60m scoring run to finally end the match as a contest with five minutes to play. Canterbury was the only Premiership to run the table against Championship opposition and collected 19 points from those matches, while it had good periods against Auckland and Bay of Plenty (although that match was lost) to back up a command effort against Taranaki, in the red-and-blacks best win of the year. The low points were probably the middle 40 against Wellington, the opening quarter against Waikato and the first half at Mt Maunganui, but Canterbury did not have too many bad patches through the season and the younger players fitted in nicely as the year progressed.

WHO'S HOT: Liam Messam was prominent against Auckland even if his game was not mistake-free; it was still obvious that he was one of the players who could turn the game for his side. He will be asked to do a lot more of the same in this match. Stephen Donald scored the last two tries and also showed the value of experience at higher levels; when things really needed to happen he looked the most likely to get the job done. His running, in particular, was a telling weapon in that match. Among the soldiers Toby Lynn had his usual honest match, doing his bit in the set pieces well and getting around the park in good style. His mates know he's there for the long haul and is a man who can be relied upon to do the little things well. Wyatt Crockett, like Messam, was smarting from his World Cup rejection but you wouldn't have known it from the way he played at Dunedin. He carted the ball up hard when that was needed, scrummaged powerfully and contributed a huge amount in general play. Although a prop – not normally a position where you expect to find game-breakers - he is the sort of player who could turn this match on its head in five minutes. Matt Todd has a battle on his hands with the Waikato loosies, but it is one that has to be won for his team to advance. He will be around the breakdown all day and is looking to cap a fine year with another winner's medal. Robbie Fruean has not really fired in the ITM Cup, but everyone knows how dangerous he can be. He has scored several tries that lesser players could not this year, but at other times has looked as if he's more concerned with laying play on for others than really attacking the line. In his best form, the big centre could well make the play that will decide the match.

WE THINK: Waikato has had a whole year to chew on its defeat in the 2010 final and many of those who are starting today will remember that occasion only too well. The sides are fairly evenly matched across the park but Waikato has a couple of potential match-winners in its ranks that could get the job done. In a close call, Waikato gets the nod in what promises to be a very good match.


Waikato: 1. Toby Smith, 2. Marcel Cummings-Toone, 3. Nathan White (capt), 4. Toby Lynn, 5. Romana Graham, 6. Liam Messam, 7. Marty Holah, 8. Alex Bradley, 9. Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 10. Stephen Donald, 11. Tim Mikkelson, 12. Sam Christie, 13. Jackson Willison, 14. Henry Speight, 15. Trent Renata.

Reserves: 16. Vance Elliott, 17. Ben May, 18. Matt Vant Leven, 19. Zack Hohneck, 20. Brendon Leonard, 21. Sitiveni Sivivatu, 22. Declan O'Donnell, 23. Ted Tauroa.

Canterbury: 1. Wyatt Crockett, 2. Ben Funnell, 3. Nepo Laulala, 4. Luke Romano, 5. Ash Parker, 6. George Whitelock (capt), 7. Matt Todd, 8. Nasi Manu, 9. Willi Heinz, 10. Tyler Bleyendaal, 11. Patrick Osborne, 12. Ryan Crotty, 13. Robbie Fruean, 14. Telusa Veainu, 15. Sean Maitland.

Reserves: 16. Paul Ngauamo, 17. Joe Moody, 18. Luke Katene, 19. Brendon O'Connor, 20. Takerei Norton, 21. Tom Taylor, 22. Johnny McNicholl, 23. Andrew Olorenshaw.

REFEREE: Garratt Williamson