Preview: Otago v Canterbury

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Thursday, September 4, 2014    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Thursday 4 September, 7.35pm at Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Played: 160, 1881-2013
Canterbury wins: 88 | Otago wins: 63 | Draws: 10

Squad update: Otago coach Tony Brown has made seven changes with the blue and golds having a short turnaround after defeating Southland in Invercargill on Saturday.

Marshall Suckling (right wing), Nick Ealey (halfback), Naulia Dawai (blindside), Jackson Hemopo (lock), Sasagi (hooker) and Sam Anderson-Heather (prop) come into the team while their is a position switch with Jayden Spence moving into the midfield to accommodate Suckling.

Canterbury have rung the alterations as well, making the same number of changes, the most notable being the absence of Colin Slade and Joe Moody who have re-joined All Blacks camp.

Regular captain Willi Heinz comes back into the team, while Alex Hodgman, Scott Barrett, Matt Todd and Luke Whitelock all return to the starting XV.

Form: Otago have shown that they enjoy playing offensive rugby, their nine tries scored are not indicative of how expressive the southerners have become under Tony Brown, a former first five-eighth who liked to play a ball in hand game himself.

North Harbour and Southland have been defeated by Otago, while their four-point loss to Counties showed how they can match the better teams – and now they will see if they can match the best.

Canterbury have so far been untouchable in the 2014 season, winning three from three while scoring 154 points while conceding just 39.

Otago will provide an interesting challenge, as the red and blacks pressure smash and grab game hasn’t been tested up front, while the vibrant game of Tony Brown’s team will certainly give it a crack against the competition’s benchmark side.

Last match: Canterbury 32 Otago 22, 14.09.13 in Christchurch (ITMC)

Last Otago win: Otago 37 Canterbury 22, 14.10.05 in Christchurch (NPC SF)

Biggest Canterbury score: 62 (62-19), 15.09.01 in Dunedin (NPC)

Biggest Otago score: 56 (56-25), 19.06.94 in Dunedin (NPC)

Biggest differential: Canterbury by 43 (62-19), 15.09.01 in Dunedin (NPC)

Key players: For Otago the forwards will play a big part in this contest, with Tony Brown stacking his bench with five big men.

However it will be the halves that dictate this and Hayden Parker will be a crucial figure, as will his new halfback partner Nick Ealey.

Canterbury’s depth is on display after coach Scott Robertson lost a couple of players to All Blacks duty but can still recall the likes of Todd and Whitelock in the back row.

Watch for Richard Mo’unga at first five-eighth for the red and blacks. The unavailability of Slade (All Blacks) and Tyler Bleyendaal (neck) means that yet another young playmaker has been given the champion’s number 10 jersey.