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Preview: Otago v Manawatu

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Friday, September 20, 2013    Sportal.co.nz    Getty Images

HEAD TO HEAD: Played: 38, Otago 19, Manawatu 13

LAST TIME: Manawatu 35 lost to Otago 51, 2012 at FMG Stadium

WALKING WOUNDED: Otago have regained the services of wing Buxton Popali'i who had been suffering a hamstring injury. He takes the place of Matt Faddes. Manawatu have replaced the injured Nehe Milner-Skudder with Auckland-based loan player Leroy van Dam. There were concerns over centre Jason Emergy and No.8 James Oliver after the Southland game but both are fit to play. Nick Crosswell has been troubled by a neck problem and is to start on the bench.

FORM: Losses to Hawke's Bay (19-26), Tasman (16-49) and Canterbury (22-32) have Otago desperately in need of a win over Manawatu to keep their hopes of making the semi-finals alive. But Manawatu are in the same position, so the pressure is on. At least Manawatu can reflect on successive wins over North Harbour (15-12) and Southland (27-17). Manawatu could claim that they have had two of the tougher opponents in the competition, Auckland and Wellington on their schedule so will have no fears for what Otago might unleash.

WE THINK: Otago will have their hands full in this game. While they have the forward strength to handle whatever Manawatu may throw at them, it is their defensive screen that will come under most threat. By performing relatively well against Canterbury last week, Otago will know they have it in them to contain Manawatu, but at the same time they will not be able to step down from that intensity because Manawatu have some tricky customers. Jade Te Rure has been making his mark at first five-eighths while centre Jason Emery is a constant threat. Add in Asaeli Tikoirotuma and the danger is obvious. By the same token, Manawatu will need good discipline because Otago goal-kicker and first five-eighths Hayden Parker has the ability to capitalise on any chances offered. It should be a close contest with home advantage telling in the end. Otago by 3.

TEAMS
Otago: 1.Craig Millar, 2.Liam Coltman, 3.Scott Manson, 4.Tom Donnelly, 5.Tom Franklin, 6.Gareth Evans, 7.Hugh Blake, 8.Paul Grant (captain), 9.Fumiaki Tanaka, 10.Hayden Parker, 11.Fa'aisu Fuatai, 12.Jayden Spence, 13.Kieran Moffat, 14. Buxton Popoali'i, 15.Peter Breen.

Replacements: 16.Sam Anderson-Heather, 17.Aki Seiuli, 18.Charlie O'Connell, 19.TJ Ioane, 20.Josh Renton, 21.Tei Walden, 22.Michael Collins

Manawatu : 1.Chris Eves, 2.Rob Foreman, 3.Ma'afu Fia, 4.Fraser Stone, 5. Michael Fitzgerald, 6.Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, 7.Callum Gibbins (captain), 8.James Oliver, 9.Papa Wharewera, 10.Jade Te Rure, 11.Asaeli Tikoirotuma,12.Tevita Taufu'i, 13.Jason Emery, 14.Leroy van Dam, 15.Lewis Marshall.

Substitutes: 16.Nick Grogaan, 17.Jared Brock, 18.Nick Crosswell,19.Hamish Gosling, 20.Nic Stirkazer, 21.Nate George, 22.Nico Malo.