Preview: Otago v Northland

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Wednesday 10 September, 7.35pm at Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Played: 44, 1936-2013
Northland wins: 9 | Otago wins: 33 | Draws: 2

Squad update: Injuries and wariness of the job ahead has led to Otago making numerous changes for this match, remembering that the blue and gold will challenge for the Ranfurly Shield at the conclusion of the round.

Michael Mata’afa will make his debut for Otago, with Donald Brighouse and Hisa Sasagi ruled out via injury. This had led to George Bower being included on the bench as another potential debutant, while another forward in Josh Dickson may also make play their first game for the hosts.

Northland, who defeated Hawke’s Bay in a non-Shield challenge last week to prove their early season victory over Wellington was no fluke, have made just one change.

Awanui club winger Jone Macilai returns from injury to replace Ume Fosita, who moves onto the bench, resulting in Dan McCully moving out of the match squad.

Form: Otago showed they are quite the real deal by pushing the defending champions Canterbury all the way last round, losing 23-16 but reversing a season trend of the red and blacks smashing all opponents.

The blue and golds are in the top four, but with a 2-2 record, will want to defeat a fellow Championship rival to confirm their potential to compete for the title and potential promotion to the Premiership.

Northland are in a similar predicament, in mixed form despite their Magpies win, losing to Canterbury and Manawatu, even though those two unions are top of their respective tables.

Last match: Otago 31 Northland 21, 09.10.13 in Whangarei (ITMC)

Last Northland win: Northland 20 Otago 17, 30.07.11 in Whangarei (ITMC)

Biggest Otago score: 84 (84–10), 20.09.98 in Dunedin (NPC)

Biggest Northland score: 48 (48–15), 22.08.73 in Whangarei

Biggest differential: Otago by 74 (84–10), 20.09.98 in Dunedin (NPC)

Key players: While Otago is missing more players via injury, they can still call upon five Highlanders, but coach Tony Brown is wary of the looming Shield challenge.

TJ Ioane drops to the bench, while James Lentjes is rested, while Matt Faddes and Josh Renton constitute the changes in the backline.

While Matt Talaese and Winston Stanley are still out for the Taniwha, coach Derren Witcombe had a fully fit squad to choose from after his team’s heroic win against the Magpies.

Daniel Hawkins continues to impress for Northland, while Dan Pryor and Michael Stolberg, last round’s try scorers and part of a visiting team that has the verve to threaten Otago.