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Preview: Manawatu v Hawke's Bay

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Saturday, September 3, 2011    Sportal.co.nz    Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: FMG Stadium, Palmerston North, Sunday September 4 @ 1735

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 94; Manawatu 30 wins, Hawke's Bay 61, drawn 3.

LAST TIME: July 16, 2011 (Palmerston North) – Manawatu 32-23 Hawke's Bay.

WALKING WOUNDED: After resting several of his troopers for the Otago match Dave Rennie has, as expected, gone back to the team that has started most of the big games this season. He also gets Frank Bryant back from his one-match suspension incurred after the Tasman game. Hawke's Bay have made one enforced change from the side beaten at New Plymouth, with Tua Saseve replacing the injured Tu Umaga-Marshall. Hika Elliot has not been sighted since he limped out of the Bay of Plenty match with a torn hamstring, and will be missed.

FORM:
Manawatu:
Round 6: beat Taranaki 15-10 (h)
Round 7: beat Wellington 31-25 (a)
Round 9: beat Waikato 54-20 (h)
Round 10: beat Tasman 27-23 (a)
Replay rnd 8: lost to Otago 20-28 (a)

Hawke's Bay:
Round 6: beat Wellington 40-20 (h)
Round 7: beat Bay of Plenty 32-12 (a)
Round 8: beat Counties-Manukau 44-14 (h)
Round 9: lost to Northland 34-43 (a)
Round 10: lost to Taranaki 11-29 (a, RS)

Manawatu may have gone down to Otago in its most recent game, but that had no bearing on anything and Dave Rennie took the chance to rest many of his workhorses. Before that Manawatu had been one of the most impressive sides in the competition and peeled off three straight wins over Premiership opposition, including a 54-20 thrashing of Waikato in the outstanding display of this year's competition. There has been much to admire about Manawatu this season, not least of which is that their wins have been team efforts, and the only bad patch they have had was the final quarter against Canterbury early on. This is a side that plays every game out to the 80th minute, as the number of times they have scored late to win or secure games attests. Hawke's Bay hit its peak mid-season with consecutive 20-point wins over Wellington and Bay of Plenty, but slipped after that when, not coincidentally, almost all the tight five either left for international duty or to the injured list. Hawke's Bay harboured hopes of winning the Ranfurly Shield last week but never looked likely; after the first ten minutes the only question was how much Taranaki would win by. The Magpies didn't hoist the white flag at any stage, but neither did they look like turning the game around and defensive penalties, all turned into goals by Beauden Barrett, kept Taranaki well in front. Hawke's Bay's best patch was when it had those big mid-season wins; its worst was the defeat to Tasman that preceded them.

WHO'S HOT: Naturally most of the pre-match attention will focus on Aaron Cruden, who has to be a leading contender for ITM Cup Player of the Year. He has directed play superbly this year, led by example and kicked goals at an 80 percent success ratio; in the Waikato and Tasman games he achieved the rare feat of scoring 50 points in only two matches. He's also a team man, and will be the key player in this game. Nick Crosswell is another fine example of what has made Manawatu so good this year, a guy who leads from the front and who keeps a calm head when the game is at its hottest. Reece Robinson may be a veteran now – he's the only player still going round that played for the Central Vikings – but offers total commitment to the cause and, if this is his last match for Manawatu, would love to go out with a title. Hawke's Bay played as 15 individuals for much of the Shield match, but one man who tried everything to get the team together was Karl Lowe. Whether at the breakdown, where he was combative as always, or carting the ball up, which he did a lot, Lowe was into everything and was one of the best forwards on the field. Richard Buckman was his backline counterpart and played with total commitment even if he was forced to work with scraps. Taranaki knew the threat he posed and made sure he was shut down quickly; it still didn't stop him scoring a try from a pile-up on the line. Chris Eaton is another non-stop trier, who can turn a game quickly if he gets the chance. If he's allowed to run he can threaten the best defences, while his all-round game is always of a high standard.

WE THINK: Although this is a final, it is possible that it will be won quite comfortably if recent form is a guide. The team that should do the winning is Manawatu, because every man works for those around him. It has been a real strength all year, and something Hawke's Bay has not shown in its last two outings; unless someone has been in the Manawatu shed with a bit of kryptonite, the home side should be 10-15 points the better team.

TEAMS:

Manawatu: 1. Grant Polson, 2. Rob Foreman, 3. Ma'afu Fia, 4. Reece Robinson, 5. Michael Fitzgerald, 6. Nick Crosswell (capt), 7. Doug Tietjens, 8. James Oliver, 9. Aaron Smith, 10. Aaron Cruden, 11. Junior Tomasi Cama, 12. Frank Bryant, 13. Lewis Marshall, 14. Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 15. Craig Clare.

Reserves: 16. Bryn Templeman, 17. Jared Brock, 18. Fraser Stone, 19. Callum Gibbins, 20. Isaac Thompson, 21. Casey Stone, 22. Nehe Milne-Skudder, 23. David Te Moana or Peni Kaufusi.


Hawke's Bay: 1. Kas Lealamanua, 2. Hikairo Forbes, 3. Ben Tameifuna, 4. Brodie Retallick, 5. Bryn Evans (capt), 6. Trent Boswell-Wakefield, 7. Adam Bradey, 8. Karl Lowe, 9. Chris Eaton, 10. Daniel Kirkpatrick, 11. Gillies Kaka, 12. Andrew Horrell, 13. Tua Saseve, 14. Richard Buckman, 15. Mark Jackman.

Reserves: 16. Danny Logan, 17. Brendon Edmonds, 18. Maselino Paulino, 19. Hugh Reed, 20. Isaac Paewai, 21. Sinoti Sinoti, 22. Tino Nemani, 23. Jody Allen.



REFEREE: Glen Jackson