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Preview: Waikato v Auckland

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Friday, September 13, 2013    Sportal.co.nz    Getty Images

LAST TIME: September 8, 2012 (Auckland) - Auckland 32 - 22 Waikato

WALKING WOUNDED: Waikato suffered a blow during the week when prop Ben Tameifuna copped a one-match suspension for stomping. He has been replaced at tighthead by Paul Ali-Emile while halfback Brad Weber and wing Semisi Masirewa also enter the starting side.

Wayne Pivac has made two changes to his forward pack with Pauliasi Manu and Sean Polwart starting at loosehead and openside flanker respectively.

Meanwhile, in the backs Orene Ai'i is in at first-five while Saleaula Silipa and George Moala take up a wing each.

FORM: Auckland are one of three teams yet to taste defeat after four rounds of action. Last week they hit top gear and thumped Taranaki, running in six tries to rack up half a century at Yarrow Stadium.

Prior to that the men from Eden Park were pushed hard by Counties Manukau but the reliable goal-kicking of Simon Hickey proved the difference.

The mood has been fairly sombre at Waikato Stadium over the past three weeks. The mooloo men have lost three on the trot, a streak which started with their devastating loss while defending the Ranfurly Shield against Otago.

It was always going to be a tough ask taking on Canterbury the next week, but against Southland last Friday it looked like their spirit had been well and truly broken.

WE THINK: Waikato are in a slump and don't look like bouncing back any time soon.

The only chance they have of beating Auckland is by dominating their forwards up front. They would have taken note of the way Counties were able to keep the contest close by gaining parity at set-piece and the breakdown.

Unfortunately that is easier said than done, and the omission of Tameifuna will make it even more difficult.

The verbal spray delivered after his pack filled with Super Rugby players were shown up against Counties seems to have done the trick.

In their previous match they were dominant and played with a real passion. That doesn't bode well for Waikato, who don't look like they will be able to match the intensity on the either sides of the ball.

Ai'i is a class operator and we expect him to spark his star-studded backline after the forwards have laid a solid platform.

It could be a long night for the home side. We'd like to think they will make a contest of it but we just can't see it happening.

Auckland by 18.

TEAMS:

Waikato: 1. Toby Smith, 2. Brayden Mitchell, 3. Paul Alo-Emile, 4. Brian Alainu'uese, 5. Sam Kilgour, 6. Rory Grice, 7. Jack Lam, 8. Adam Burn, 9. Brad Weber, 10. Wharenui, 11. Semisi Masirewa, 12. Jackson Willison (c), 13. Save Tokula, 14. Tim Mikkelson, 15. Trent Renata.

Reserves: 16. Vance Elliott, 17. Latu Talakai, 18. Chris Middleton, 19. Jono Armstrong, 20. Mick Snowden, 21. Sam Christie, 22. Dylan Collier.

Auckland: 1. Pauliasi Manu, 2. Tom McCartney, 3. Angus Ta'avao, 4. Liaki Moli, 5. Patrick Tuipulotu, 6. Joe Edwards, 7. Sean Polwart, 8. Peter Saili, 9. Piri Weepu, 10. Orene Ai'i, 11. Saleaula Silipa, 12. Hadleigh Parkes (c), 13. Malakai Fekitoa, 14. George Moala, 15. Lolagi Visinia.

Reserves: 16. Gafatasi Su'a, 17. Sam Prattley, 18. Jack Whetton, 19. David Whitecliffe, 20. Wayne Ngaluafe, 21. Vince Aso, 22. Tenina Sauileoge.