Preview: Waikato v Southland

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Wednesday, September 9, 2015    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Form: Waikato had recovered from a first up loss to Tasman to record victories against Manawatu and Bay of Plenty, with both wins coming away from the comforts of home.

However they returned to Hamilton to host the inform Aucklanders and the blue and white machine hummed into gear, defeating Waikato 50-28.

It was a match that saw the hosts compete well for long periods, but five tries in the final 29 minutes ensured their great rivals hit the half century.

The Stags on the other hand need to resurrect their campaign and quickly, three straight losses has them in the bottom half of the Championship table and defeat in this one will ensure they finish the round outside the top four.

A first up draw to Auckland and their solitary win of the season (v Southland) has been followed by defeats Bay of Plenty and North Harbour, before last weekend’s demolition job by Wellington – the Lions won 53-3 in Invercargill.

It was the first time in over a decade the Stags had let in that many points in their own backyard.

Thursday 10 September, 7.35pm at Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
Played: 33, 1952-2013
Southland wins: 9 | Waikato wins: 23 | Draws: 1

Last match: Southland 20 Waikato 16, 06.09.13 in Invercargill (ITMC)
Last Waikato win: Waikato 19 Southland 9, 15.07.11 in Invercargill (ITMC)
Biggest Southland score: 36 (36-44), 02.09.00 in Hamilton (NPC)
Biggest Waikato score: 95 (95-7), 05.09.98 in Hamilton (NPC, RS)
Biggest differential: Waikato by 88 (95-7), 05.09.98 in Hamilton (NPC, RS)

Squad update: Waikato has made minimal changes with the team facing a quick turnaround from Saturday’s loss to Auckland, with just two changes to the run on side.

Prop Ben Tameifuna returns to the starting lineup with Loni Uhila moving back to the bench, while Number 8 Adam Burn gets his first chance of the season in place of Josh Tyrell.

Hooker Michael Mayhew is out indefinitely with a foot injury which means Hame Faiva gets another start and uncapped Hamilton Old Boys rake Tyrone Te Ruruku comes onto the bench for a potential Waikato debut.

After succumbing to a hamstring injury before the Auckland game, Stephen Donald has again been named on the Waikato bench.

In what is a big boost for Southland, All Blacks first five-eighth Lima Sopoaga has been named at 10, it will be his second game of the season for the Stags and the last time he played his team took the victory.

Overall Sopoaga’s inclusion is one of four changes to the visiting team, with two more alterations in the back division.

Young Mike Molley has been named on the right wing after making his debut against Wellington last week, while Liam Howley will partner Sopoaga at halfback.

Up front there is just the solitary change, with hard working flanker Bill Fukofuka named on the bench, resulting in Alex Taylor starting at blindside.

Key Players: The return of the mammoth Ben Tameifuna will hopefully provide some much needed stability to the Waikato set piece, an area that was ruthlessly exposed by Auckland’s forward power last round.

Adam Burn, a former NZ Schools back row forward, is a mobile number eight and his inclusion will ensure that Waikato’s speed to the breakdown is enhanced.

Brad Weber and Damian McKenzie continue to grow, despite Auckland’s onslaught they still created opportunities, while Anton Lienert-Brown and Shaun Stevenson, try scorers in round four, will be keen to get involved with increasing regularity.

It is a safe bet to assume that none of the Southland squad would have had a particularly enjoyable week after watching the Lions tear apart their game with little resistance last round.

Jamie Mackintosh is often talked about as a key figure but now is the time for the loosehead to make a real impact, the men out wide will not prosper unless the Stags rediscover that forward belligerence that has served them so well in the past.

Tim Boys, Elliot Dixon and Josh Bekhuis are busy figures but Southland seems to be losing the one-on-one battles up front, so if the touring pack can win the collisions and dominate possession it will be a big help.

Sopoaga will be crucial, but the playmaker will want ball carriers like Willis Halaholo and Keanu Kahukura to be lurking off his shoulders, support lines have not been the finest aspect of the Stags attacking play so far in 2015.