Preview: Auckland v Manawatu

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Wednesday, September 9, 2015    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Form: Auckland’s win loss ledger doesn’t indicate the form they have wielded this season, their 50-28 victory over Waikato showed how dangerous their offensive game is.

Prior to that they threatened a late comeback against Canterbury, but the red and blacks superior start gave them the 27-21 win, but it continued Auckland’s record so far in 2015 of collecting competition points from every outing - while looking quite at home against the big guns of the tournament.

While they are comfortably in the top four of the ITM Cup Premiership, they will want to extend their impressive record against the Turbos and keep pressure on the ladder leading Makos and red and blacks.

Manawatu are finding life in the top flight difficult after winning promotion last year, and a difficult fortnight – where they have played the current top teams – came to an end in round four with Canterbury handing out a 57-7 thrashing.

Before that the Turbos had a couple of close losses against Counties and Waikato, but coach Jason O’Halloran knows that close finishes count for little when the competition is over.

A victory is sorely needed.

Overcoming aspects such as a traditional weak start or failing to put points on the board despite boasting possession will be high priorities for the travellers if they are to beat Auckland for the first time in 34 years.

Wednesday 9 September, 7.35pm at Eden Park, Auckland
Played: 29, 1917-2014
Auckland wins: 23 | Manawatu wins: 6

Last match: Auckland 35 Manawatu 7, 24.08.14 in Palmerston North (ITMC)
Last Manawatu win: Manawatu 15 Auckland 9, 27.06.81 in Palmerston North (NPC)
Biggest Auckland score: 59 (59-3), 17.09.88 in Auckland (NPC, RS) and (59-16), 02.09.12 in Auckland (ITMC)
Biggest Manawatu score: 24 (24-6), 24.06.78 in Auckland (NPC)
Biggest differential: Auckland by 56 (59-3), 17.09.88 in Auckland (NPC, RS)

Squad update: Auckland Coach Paul Feeney has rung in the changes for his team’s match against Manawatu at Eden Park, making a mammoth 14 alterations ot his starting team, with two players poised to make their provincial debut.

Kurt Eklund, Jono Owen and Taleni Seu will all make their first starts in the blue and white hoops, while Rieko Ioane and Lolagi Visinia are promoted to starting berths in the back line.

Players called in from Auckland representative teams that will be on the bench are hooker Sam Thomas, lock Ben NeeNee and halfback Dwayne Polataivao.

Manawatu have also made heavy changes, with O’Halloran bringing in nine new players to his starting team.

Fraser Armstrong and Nick Grogan replace Adrian Barone and Rob Foreman respectively in the tight five, while captain Callum Gibbins returns from injury to replace Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, who may miss a couple of matches with a cracked rib.

Out wide fullback Hamiora Thomas moves to the bench and Semisi Masirewa shifts from wing to custodian, resulting in Nathan Tudreu getting a starting spot on the left wing.

Jamie Booth and Hamish Northcott start at halfback and second five-eighth, while Kayne Hammington is out with an injured ankle.

Key players: Auckland have taken a risk changing every player who started last week with the exception of Simon Hickey.

To be fair to the hosts, their depth has resulted in a team that still looks formidable, Rieko Ioane and George Moala could form a devastating midfield while Lolagi Visinia and Melani Nanai are strike players who will be itching to get their hands on the ball.

The danger for the hosts is likely to be up front, with respect to the new forwards, they will not present as formidable a unit as a full strength blue and white pack – in the form of Kurt Eklund and Jono Owen they have two of their three front rowers starting an ITM Cup match for the first time.

Manawatu meanwhile will expect their forwards to be in with a fighting chance if they learn't lessons from round four, they received a masterclass from Canterbury last round and will be eyeing up an Auckland frontal unit nowhere near as deadly as the red and blacks.

The return of Callum Gibbins will give the Turbos more authority at the breakdown, while the new faces in the pack like Fraser Armstrong and Nick Grogan should give the visitors desperate needed vitality around the loose exchanges.

A key man will be Otere Black, a promising first five-eighth still learning the fine art of taking a game by the scruff of the neck, and if he can form a solid partnership with Jamie Booth that will be a good boost to the team’s chances.

Ambrose Curtis, Jason Emery and Nathan Tudreu have attacking nous, but they will need to get involved as there is a tentativeness about Manawatu at times that Auckland will pounce on if given a chance.