Preview: Otago v Manawatu

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Thursday, October 9, 2014    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Friday, October 10, 7.35pm, Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin

Played: 39, Otago won 20, Manawatu 13, Drawn 6

Squad Update: Peter Breen will make his first start of the season for Otago playing at first five-eighths as a result of Hayden Parker suffering a shoulder injury last week. Parker will have a fitness test ahead of the game and if unable to play his place on the bench will be taken by Kieran Moffat. Lee Allan has not recovered from a head knock suffered three weeks and Hugh Blake will take his place on the blindside flank with TJ Ioane on the bench. Trent Renata will start again at fullback with Jayden Spence on the wing.

Manawatu have made two changes to the side which beat Hawke's Bay. Jamie Booth will start at halfback while Newton Tudreu will play on the wing ahead of Semisi Masirewa. However, prior commitments have meant that Aaron Cruden will not be on the bench for his side.

Form: Home team Otago faces a daunting task against a Manawatu side which is finishing its season in strong style. That was demonstrated when they headed the Ranfurly Shield holders, who beat Otago 41-0, 29-3 at their last outing. After a hiccup against North Harbour, Manawatu have fashioned four wins in their last five games, two of them against Premiership sides. It is the all round combativeness of the Turbos side that has made it such an impressive unit.

Otago has only a solitary win in their last five games, that against Waikato 38-7. While it has the advantage of playing at home, that will not be sufficient to hold off a Manawatu team charging toward promotion. Injury to Hayden Parker has only exacerbated the job ahead of the Otago side.

Otago's recent results have been:
Round 5 – lost to Northland 23-40
Round 6 – lost to Hawke's Bay 0-41
Round 7 – beat Waikato 38-7
Round 8 – lost to Tasman 24-32
Round 9 – lost to Bay of Plenty 16-33

Manawatu's recent results have been:
Round 5 – beat Counties Manukau 26-10
Round 6 – lost to North Harbour 13-24
Round 7 – beat Southland 41-20
Round 8 – beat Waikato 22-20
Round 9 – beat Hawke's Bay 29-3

Key Players: Centre Jason Emery has had another fine season for Manawatu and can be expected to keep the pressure on Otago if his forwards can secure quality ball. Look to first five-eighths Otere Black to continue his tremendous debut season while fullback Nehe Milner-Skudder and the Tudreu brothers Nathan and Newton will punish any ill-directed ball sent their way. Up front Nick Crosswell knows Dunedin Stadium well while Michael Fitzgerald and Fraser Stone offer solidity up front and there is no doubting the experience of hooker Rob Foreman. Otago captain and No.8 Charlie O'Connell has fought valiantly for his side but there has not been the sort of consistent support expected of Otago sides. Halfback Josh Renton will have plenty to play for while marking his New Zealand Under-20s team-mate and it will be interesting to see if Peter Breen can offer anything different at first five-eighths.