Preview: Canterbury v Hawke’s Bay

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Saturday, September 12, 2015    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Form: Canterbury hadn’t been overly impressive by their lofty standards, with wins over Counties and Auckland ‘allowing’ their opponents to collect losing bonus points.

Then last week they unleashed the full array of their tricks, dismantling Manawatu’s defensive systems to record a 57-7 win.

But they need to keep on triumphing if they are to keep pace with the ladder leading Makos.

Interestingly the red and blacks to not feature in many top fours statistically, but if they play to the tune we saw against the Turbos for the rest of the season, expect their numbers to tighten up as the final’s loom.

The Ranfurly Shield holders will be happy with affairs so far but will be under no illusion of the challenge that awaits them at AMI Stadium, even if they do not have to put the Log o’Wood up for grabs.

Hawke’s Bay have looked largely untroubled throughout their first four games, winning against Northland (39-10), Otago (39-22), Counties (35-11) and North Harbour (48-32).

However the most consistent ITM Cup team over several years will bring a stern examination of whether the Magpies, in a tussle with Wellington for promotion, can match a marquee opponent in their own backyard.

One thing the visitors can rest easy about is that their performance indicators hold court with all other teams in the ITM Cup, Hawke’s Bay as an attacking and set piece team is among the best in the competition and they will not be fearful despite the pedigree of their hosts.

Saturday 12 September, 7.35pm at AMI Stadium (Addington), Christchurch
Played: 54, 1887-2012 | Canterbury wins: 30 | Hawke's Bay wins: 21 | Draws: 3

Last match: Canterbury 44 Hawke's Bay 3, 10.10.12 in Napier (ITMC)
Last Hawke's Bay win: Hawke's Bay 21 Canterbury 13, 26.08.82 in Hastings (NPC)
Biggest Canterbury score: 76 (76-14), 09.07.03 in Christchurch (NPC, RS)
Biggest Hawke's Bay score: 31 (31-31), 21.09.91 in Christchurch (NPC)
Biggest differential: Canterbury by 62 (76-14), 09.07.03 in Christchurch (NPC, RS)

Squad update: Canterbury Head Coach Scott Robertson has named two All Blacks at prop, with Nepo Laulala returning from his time in the All Blacks camp to start at tighthead and Joe Moody starting at loosehead. Alex Hodgman and Siate Tokolahi will provide cover from the bench.

Mitchell Dunshea starts at lock alongside Dominic Bird this week, moving Ben Matwijow to the bench. The final change in the forwards is Reed Prinsep starting in the numer 6 jersey.

The only change in the backs is Richie Mo’unga returning to the first five spot, which sees Tom Taylor move to fullback.

Hawke’s Bay have made a host of changes after their successful Shield defence against North Harbour.

Lock Sanaila Waqa comes into the team replacing Mark Abbot, who shifts into the back row to accommodate for the absence of Tom Stanley, resulting in Tony Lamborn shifting to the open side.

Jonah Lowe will run out for his ITM Cup debut replacing Richard Buckman, while the other change out wide will see Chris Eaton replacing Ellery Wilson at nine.

Robbie Fruean has been named on the bench.

Key players: Canterbury’s line up shows the depth available to coach Scott Robertson, five players named to start up front have worn the All Blacks jersey.

Matt Todd and Luke Whitelock have been obvious sights as the impressive Canterbury forward attack goes about its business, so far in 2015 they have been able to withstand all comers at the set piece.

If this continues against the credentialed Magpies, then out wide Richie Mo’unga and Johnny McNicholl can continue to showcase their wares, aided by the presence of calm minds like Ryan Crotty and Tom Taylor.

Hawke’s Bay however might back themselves to have a superior back division, with Israel Dagg playing on his ‘other’ home ground, while Ihaia West is perhaps the most improved player in 2015, his game management throughout the ITM Cup has grown since his difficulties at the Blues.

The hosts might look more glamorous up front, but the hardworking Magpies forwards will not take a backward step, indeed the Hawke’s Bay pack may have already claimed the award for most bandages used in general play.

Brendon O’Connor, Tony Lamborn and Brendon Edmonds have been putting in the hard yards and while they might not get the plaudits their flashy backline does, they are so far among the best performers in one of the tournament’s better packs.