Preview: Counties Manukau v Hawke's Bay
Thursday, August 27, 2015 Lynn McConnell Getty Images
Form: Counties Manukau headed south to Christchurch last week and went down 15-20 to Canterbury in a tight encounter while Hawke's Bay made the most of a trip to Otago to claim a 39-22 win with All Blacks contender Israel Dagg bagging three tries.
Hawke's Bay have won both their games with a 39-10 defence of the Ranfurly Shield against Northland to open the competition.
Counties Manukau held off a fast-finishing Manawatu team to claim a 36-35 win and will be looking to use home town advantage to get another win on the board.
The game shapes as an even contest where the final outcome could be determined by responses in key moments. There are personal battles lined up all over the field while both packs have proven themselves solid, and competitive at the breakdown.
Wins: Counties Manukau 22, Hawke's Bay 28, drawn 1
Last match: Counties Manukau 21, Hawke's Bay 27 (Ranfurly Shield)
Squad Update: With the last opportunities to impress the All Blacks selectors the Hawke's Bay side have fullback Israel Dagg and prop Ben Franks needing to show their wares.
Franks is responsible for the only change to the forward pack which beat Otago as he comes in for Jarvy Aoake while in the backline Zac Guildford has changed to the right wing in place of Ryan Tongia with Shannan Chase on the left wing.
By comparison, Counties Manukau have made nine changes to the side. Boosting the backs is former All Black Frank Halai, who has been injured, while Tony Pulu will start at fullback and Johnny Fa'auli will play second five-eighths.
Up front Onosa'i Auva'a will start on the flank with Maama Vaipulu at No.8.
Prop Sean Bagshaw and hooker Michael Lea will start in the front row while the locking duties will be handled by Sikeli Nabou and Viliame Rarasea.
Counties Manukau coach Tana Umaga summed the game up: "Hawke's Bay are a team in good form. They are playing with confidence and have some quality players coming back, so we have to be very mindful of that.
"We need to focus on what we are trying to achieve. We have some players having their first start this week and we trust those guys to be able to deliver for us."
Counties Manukau: 1.Sean Bagshaw, 2.Michael Lea, 3.Jarrod Firth, 4.Sikeli Nabou, 5.Viliame Rarasea, 6.Jimmy Tupou (captain), 7.Onosa'i Auva'a, 8.Maama Vaipulu, 9.Richard Judd, 10.Piers Francis, 11.Sione Fifita, 12.Johnny Fa'auli, 13.Sam Vaka, 14.Frank Halai, 15.Toni Pulu.
Reserves: 16.Gafatasi Su'a, 17.Pauliasi Manu, 18.Sam Aiono, 19.Dan Hyatt, 20.Sam Henwood, 21.Kane Hancy, 22.Nathan de Thierry, 23.Cardiff Vaega.
Hawke's Bay: 1.Brendon Edmonds, 2.Ash Dixon, 3.Ben Franks, 4.Mark Abbott, 5.Michael Allardice, 6.Tony Lamborn, 7.Tom Stanley, 8.Brendon O'Connor (captain), 9.Ellery Wilson, 10.Ihaia West, 11.Shannan Chase, 12.Andrew Horrell, 13.Richard Buckman, 14.Zac Guildford, 15.Israel Dagg.
Reserves: 16.Jorian Tangaere, 17.Tolu Fahamokioa, 18.Mark Braidwood, 19.Sanaila Waqa, 20.Trent Boswell-Wakefield, 21.Chris Eaton, 22.Billy Ropiha, 23.Ryan Tongia.
Key Players: The loose forwards of both sides are crucial to this outcome in such a tight game. Onosai'i Auva'a offers some key experience for the home team where Jimmy Tupou has been leading the way but in Brendon O'Connor and Tony Lamborn Hawke's Bay have two hardened performers who will be difficult to contain.
By comparison, the Hawke's Bay backline has plenty of experience with Ihaia West and Andrew Horrell in the five-eighths and the old firm of Richard Buckman, Zac Guildford and Israel Dagg to patrol things out the back.
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