Preview: Bay of Plenty v Auckland

Getty Images

Saturday, September 13, 2014    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Saturday 13 September, 2.35pm at Rotorua International Stadium, Rotorua
Played: 59, 1912–2013
Bay of Plenty wins: 12 | Auckland wins: 47

Squad update: While Mike Kainga and Leroy Van Dam may have been the try scoring heroes last week, it was the Steamers defence that lifted, allowing them to record a valuable 21-14 victory over Harbour for victory number one for 2014.

In the backs Te Aihe Toma again guides proceedings out wide, but the young first five-eighth will want to improve his kicking after Nick Evemy assumed duties last week.

Auckland coach Paul Feeney has made four changes to his team, with Blake Gibson and Leon Fukofuka coming into the starting team alongside Ben Lam and Liaki Moli.

The side scored 25 unanswered points against Wellington in the second half and that strike power, not to mention the guidance of the likes of Gareth Anscombe and Simon Hickey, allowed Auckland to overrun the Lions.

Form: The Steamers have been able to get that elusive first win, but while Auckland represents a significant step up, they were competitive against the blue and whites last year and gave them a 37-16 touch up in 2012.

Auckland, a little bit of a mixed bag this season, have the firepower to blow Bay of Plenty away as evidenced by their second half romp against Wellington and their 35-7 stroll against Championship leaders Manawatu.

However as the draw against Tasman showed, Auckland can become an awkward team if stuck in a prolonged arm-wrestle, meaning the Steamers might look to make this a battle of attrition.

Last match: Auckland 32 Bay of Plenty 17, 31.08.13 in Auckland (ITMC)

Last Bay of Plenty win: Bay of Plenty 37 Auckland 16, 14.09.12 in Rotorua (ITMC)

Biggest Bay of Plenty score: 37 (37–16), 16.09.12 in Rotorua (ITMC)

Biggest Auckland score: 65 (65–9), 29.09.84 in Rotorua (NPC)

Biggest differential: Auckland by 56 (65–9), 29.09.84 in Rotorua (NPC)

Key players: Culum Retallick has proved to be just the leader Bay of Plenty needs, giving the team the reality check it needed when suggesting that the team’s leaky defence was the issue prior to the game against Harbour.

With the troops responding to the bullet, the likes of Kainga, Joe Royal, Evemy and Tino Nemani had solid matches and the Steamers coaches will be looking for more of the same.

Auckland, with a 50% winning record, need to make a statement here of the likes of Canterbury, Tasman and Taranaki could make a break in the Premiership.

The Anscombe / Hickey combination at 15 and 10 seems to be a good one for Auckland, but the likes of Francis Saili and George Moala need to make their presence felt earlier if the blue and whites are to overcome what has become a customary slow start to matches.