Preview: Otago v Canterbury

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Friday, August 14, 2015    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Form: The hosts come into this fixture well prepared, the playing group saw more activity that any other during the preseason, with the Otago “Sassenachs” featuring early to give extended squad members a run, while the Razorbacks played games away from home against Tasman and Southland.

This campaign will captivate, Otago during the 2013 ITM Cup were a Championship contender but played second fiddle to Tasman, and then last season they struggled, winning just three of their ten matches – finishing just two competition points ahead of bottom placed Bay of Plenty.

However this season the region is on cloud nine, the Highlanders are the current Investec Super Rugby champions, and more than one or two players in the blue and gold will want to add another trophy to ORFU headquarters.

Canterbury have also prepared well, defeating Wellington 50-33 in their first preseason match, followed by a 21-29 defeat to a near full strength Counties side.

The red and blacks were unsuccessful in their bid to bring an incredible seventh straight title to Christchurch, they may have finished just four competition points behind Taranaki and Tasman, but those two were on a path to glory – and the Makos embarrassed Canterbury in the semis with a comprehensive triumph.

Head coach Scott Robertson and his men will want to continue their status as a title contender, 2006 was the last time the ‘Lambs’ did not reach the top four of the competition.

Saturday 15 August, 4.35pm at Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Played: 161, 1881-2014
Canterbury wins: 89 | Otago wins: 63 | Draws: 10

Last match: Canterbury 23 Otago 16, 04.09.14 in Dunedin (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)

Squad update: Five players will debut for the hosts, with new Otago head coach Cory Brown picking a mix of local talent and foreign reinforcements.

Blindside flank Adam Knight and Number eight Mike Mafi get nods, while local boy and University A playmaker Fletcher Smith will also get his first full ITM Cup cap.

Halfback Kaide Whiting will make his debut for Otago (previously Tasman), while the well-travelled Jack Wilson (South African and English club rugby) has been named in the starting XV.

There are only four players who started for Otago in its last match of 2014 remaining.

Canterbury Head Coach Scott Robertson has named a side that reflects the impressive performances put in by a number of players during the pre-season.

Three players are set to make their ITM Cup debut if they come off the bench – hooker Nick Werahiko, loose forward/lock Mitchell Dunshea, and halfback Jack Stratton.

Outside back Marshall Suckling will face his former Otago teammates if he gets a run off the bench, in his first game for Canterbury in the season proper.

Otago: Tony Ensor, Matt Faddes, Jayden Spence, Tei Walden, Jack Wilson, Fletcher Smith, Kaide Whiting, Mika Mafi, James Lentjes, Adam Knight, Josh Dickson, Jackson Hemopo, Hisa Sasagi, Liam Coltman (captain), Craig Millar.

Reserves: Sam Anderson-Heather, Donald Brighouse, Scott Manson, Charlie O'Connell, Ratu Dawai, Josh Walden, Peter Breen, Michael Collins.

Canterbury: Tom Taylor, Johnny McNicholl, Jack Goodhue, Rob Thompson, Patrick Osborne, Richie Mo'unga, Mitchell Drummond, Luke Whitelock (captain), Matt Todd, Reed Prinsep, Dominic Bird, JJ Manning, Siate Tokolahi, Ben Funnell, Daniel Lienert-Brown.

Reserves: Nick Werahiko, Alex Hosgman, Sione Faletau, Tom Sanders, Mitchell Dunshea, Jack Stratton, Milford Keresoma, Marshall Suckling.

Key players: There aren’t too many familiar faces in this Otago team, but energetic hooker Liam Coltman will be known to most, and Brown has handed the rake the captaincy for this clash.

Tei Walden will be a beacon in the midfield with his impressive running, Kaide Whiting has the promise to be a belligerent number nine, while Knight and Mafi will be threatening if they repeat their heroics seen throughout the club competition.

Canterbury on the other hand have selected a very strong side, on paper they look beyond the young Otago outfit, but this won’t be a major concern for the locals – many said similar things about the Highlanders this year when they came up against illustrious opponents and look how that turned out.

Matt Todd and Patrick Osborne feature after being released from the All Blacks squad, while Dominic Bird will want a mighty performance in the second row if he is to catch the attention of the international selectors.

Luke Whitelock captain’s the side, while he has leadership support in the likes of Tom Taylor and Ben Funnell. 

Offensively Johnny McNicholl and Jack Goodhue provide thrust – remember on attack Canterbury was the best in the business last year with 40 tries scored.