Preview: Bay of Plenty v Waikato

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Friday, October 4, 2013    Getty Images

One thing in their favour is they take on Waikato at the best possible time, licking their wounds after a record-breaking defeat against a Championship side.

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 78; Bay of Plenty 25, Waikato 49, drawn 4.

LAST TIME: September 11, 2012 (Hamilton) – Waikato 15-6 Bay of Plenty.

MISSING IN ACTION: The return of Tanerau Latimer for the Steamers certainly adds some force to a forward pack that have been solid-if-not-spectacular in his absence.

Utility Nick Evemy drops to the bench in favour of Sam Beard, while Samisoni Fisilau is also relegated to the pine in a move that gives Josh Hall a rare start at halfback. Johan Bardoul replaces Joe Tupe in the starting line-up, while Latimer's return is at the expense of Queensland Reds flanker Beau Robinson.

Waikato will be breathing a sigh of relief after captain Jackson Willison was named to start at second five-eighths. Prop Ben Tameifuna, Wharenui Hawera, Adam Burn, Rory Grice and Brayden Mitchell also return for the visitors.

Kylem O'Donnell has been dropped to the bench, with Semisi Masirewa taking his spot on the right wing while Niko Malo earns his maiden run-on start on the left wing.

FORM: Bay of Plenty would have had relatively bright ambitions following a 24-20 win over Hawke's Bay in Round 2. It followed a bonus-point 29-32 defeat to Otago a week earlier to start their season with five points from two rounds. Then the rot set in.

Such was their barren run that Bay of Plenty wouldn't pick up another competition point until Round 7, when they were pipped 30-31 by Counties Manukau last Sunday. They'll need a lot more points than their current haul of six if they are to survive the drop - and they'll need to do it at their opponents' expense. Expect coach Herb Schuler to be looking at Taranaki's final two matches against Tasman and Wellington, too, given they are on the same amount of competition points as Waikato (13).

Waikato, too, have had a season from hell. The promising campaign started with a hard-fought Ranfurly Shield defence over Northland, but a gruelling injury toll and a loss of form saw the side plummet. They confirmed they had reached their lowest point when they suffered a humiliating 28-64 belting at the hands of Championship front-runners Tasman. The 64 points was the most any Waikato provincial side has conceded in their long and plentiful history.

Yet there is one cause of celebration amongst all of the melancholy. They can take solace from the fact their destiny is in their own hands, a far contrast from their opponents on Saturday. Waikato's run doesn't get any easier, however, with their final match of the competition against fellow battlers Taranaki.

A match that would have been easy to predict two or three weeks ago has been complicated by form and injuries.

Waikato would have targeted this match at the beginning of the season as a bankable four points, but even that isn't certain anymore. A raft of injuries (admittedly some are returning this week) saw the visitors go down heavily a week ago, while Bay of Plenty were denied a rare victory by some rather awful rugby in the dying minutes of their match against Counties Manukau.

Both sides have some big forward packs, with Rory Grice's tantalising match-up against Tanerau Latimer potentially the pick of the lot.

Livewire halfback Brad Weber has rightly been given a chance at halfback and could make or break Waikato's chances if he spots a half gap around the breakdown area.

While we're expecting a close battle for three quarters of the match, there's one thing that should power one side to victory. Given their record loss a week earlier, Waikato will be hurting. Big time. They will have copped a bit of stick from coach Jonny Walters throughout the week over that game and Saturday is a chance for actions to speak louder than words, something Bay of Plenty are still trying to understand.

Waikato by 5.

Bay of Plenty:
1. Kane Hames, 2. Nathan Harris, 3. Pingi Tala'a, 4. Culum Retallick, 5. Josh Sole, 6. Johan Bardoul, 7. Tanerau Latimer, 8. Carl Axtens, 9. Josh Hall, 10. Willie Ripia (c), 11. Kimami Sitauti, 12. Sam Beard, 13. Kendrick Lynn, 14. Tino Nemani, 15. Elliott Hagen.

Substitutes: 16. Kalem Chan Boon, 17. Joe Royal, 18. Tim Bond, 19. Joe Tupe, 20. Beau Robinson, 21. Toma Te Aihe, 22. Nick Evemy.

1. Toby Smith, 2. Brayden Mitchell, 3. Ben Tameifuna, 4. Brian Alainu'uese, 5. Whetu Douglas, 6. Rory Grice, 7. Zak Hohneck, 8. Adam Burn, 9. Brad Weber, 10. Wharenui Hawera, 11. Niko Malo, 12. Sam Christie, 12. Jackson Willison (c), 14. Semisi Masirewa, 15. Trent Renata.

Substitutes: 16. Vance Elliott, 17. Paul Alo-Emile, 18. Josh Tyrell, 19. Zane Kapeli, 20. Kylem O'Donnell, 21. Save Tokula/Joe Perawiti, 22, Falelima Siinei.