Preview: Manawatu v Southland

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Saturday, September 20, 2014    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Saturday 20 September, 7.35pm at FMG Stadium, Palmerston North
Played: 41, 1905-2013
Manawatu wins: 21 | Southland wins: 17 | Draws: 3

Squad update: The home team have lost captain Callum Gibbins with a knee complaint, with a scan revealed a partial tear to his ACL, resulting in the openside flanker missing just his second match in his last 28 appearances.

Nick Crosswell will captain the side, while former New Zealand Schools representative Antonio Kiri Kiri has been named at seven, yet another change as Manawatu finds their back row resources under strain.

The backline is unchanged with the exception of Kayne Hammington’s addition at halfback, meaning that Jamie Booth misses out on a starting role.

Southland have made five overall shifts, and visiting coach Brad Mooar has selected what many would guess to be the Stags first choice team.

Prop JP Koen, number two Talemaitoga Tuapati, lock Michael Fatialofa and halfback Scott Eade return to the side – while in the backline Cardiff Vaega replaces Willis Halaholo at second five-eighth.

Form: Manawatu would have been disappointed with their loss to North Harbour, which broke a run of three straight victories for the ITM Cup Championship leaders.

While this rivalry is one of the more even head to heads in New Zealand provincial rugby, Manawatu have won 21 of the 41 matches the two sides have played in their 109-year conflict.

Southland, impressive with a 36-34 win over a Northland team that has looked the goods this season, recorded a victory that broke an unwanted streak of two straight losses.

Playing with a lot more ambition and width that seen from Stags teams in the past, how they match up against a Turbos team that does their side's moniker proud with their style will be interesting in the Palmerston North dusk.

Last match: Manawatu 27 Southland 17, 13.09.13 in Palmerston North (ITMC)

Last Southland win: Southland 17 Manawatu 11, 12.10.12 in Invercargill (ITMC)

Biggest Southland score: 61 (61-6), 10.09.86 in Palmerston North (NPC)

Biggest Manawatu score: 42 (42-30), 27.08.94 in Palmerston North (NPC)

Biggest differential: Manawatu by 55 (61-6), 10.09.86 in Palmerston North (NPC)

Key players: The Manawatu pack has been strong this season, and while the absence of the skipper will hurt, the likes of Crosswell, Antonio Kiri Kiri and Ma’afu Fia have been in form, especially at the set piece exchanges.

Otere Black, yet another number 10 in what is emerging as an almost a ridiculous situation of depth around New Zealand when it comes to backline navigators, will be an important figure as will the Tudreu brothers on the wings.

Another playmaker in Lima Sopoaga will be prominent, with the Southland playmaker in compelling form, while the 23-year-old will have plenty of family in the stands with confirmation the clan have made the trip north from Wellington for the match.