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Preview: Southland v Hawke's Bay

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Friday, October 2, 2015    ITMCup.co.nz    Getty Images

Form: Southland were lambs to the slaughter against Otago, their 7-61 defeat a new low for a traditionally proud rugby province, especially as it came a week after silencing Premiership outfit Manawatu 49-14. Sunday will mark eight days since the southern derby result, and the Stags will be desperate to prove that horrific result was a one-off as they look to grab all remaining 10 competition points to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. One advantage Southland has over Hawke's Bay? A statistically stronger lineout - watch for the lineout drive opportunities close to the line.

Meanwhile, Hawke's Bay have gone three games unbeaten, with results that included a 22-22 stalemate with fellow Championship contenders Wellington, as well as two successful Ranfurly Shield defences in consecutive weeks over Bay of Plenty (23-17) and Auckland (17-12). Having scored the third highest number of tries this season with 32, and making the biggest number of clean breaks in 2015 (104), this is a side that has found form at the right time.

Played: 51
Wins: Southland 28, Hawke's Bay 21, Draws 2
Last Time: Hawke's Bay 20 Southland 20, Napier 2014 (RS)

Hawke's Bay: 1.Jason Long, 2.Jorian Tangaere, 3.Mark Braidwood, 4.Michael Allardice, 5.Sanaila Waqa, 6.Trent Boswell-Wakefield (captain), 7.Tom Stanley, 8.Kaleb Sweet, 9.Ellery Wilson, 10.Tryone Elkington-MacDonald, 11.Mason Emerson, 12.Lewis Marshall, 13.Robbie Fruean, 14.Ryan Tongia, 15.Zac Guildford.

Reserves: 16.Ash Dixon, 17.Tolu Fahamokioa, 18.Brendon Edmonds, 19.Mark Abbott, 20.Tony Lamborn, 21.Chris Eaton, 22.Ihaia West, 23.Jonah Lowe.

Southland: To be confirmed.

Squad Update: Southland's squad was unavailable at the time of publication, but usual captain Jamie Mackintosh's name won't be read out after he was red carded and later given a one week suspension for striking. Otago prop Hisa Sasagi in the southern derby. Instead, the reins will be given to No.8 Elliot Dixon, who has been a standout for the Stags throughout the season. Mackintosh will be replaced in the squad by Ben Crawford, while Dillan Halaholo will likely move to hooker and David Hall moving on to the bench for the injured Brayden Mitchell.

Hawke's Bay have made changes aplenty for this clash, as they eye their final Ranfurly Shield defence of the season next week. Israel Dagg has been replaced at fullback by Zac Guildford, while the likes of Chris Eaton and Ihaia West have been benched in favour of Ellery Wilson and Tryone Elkington-MacDonald respectively. Sunday's clash is the perfect opportunity to blood talent with an eye to not only the Ranfurly Shield, but the playoffs for the Magpies.

Key Players: Southland second five-eighths Willis Halaholo always brings an element of excitement, and his battle against Hawke’s Bay centre Robbie Fruean will be of particular interest. Lima Sopoaga, too, needs to bounce back from that horror loss with an improved display while Dixon will give it his all at the breakdown.

For Hawke's Bay there's an element of curiosity about Guildford at fullback, and it will be interesting to see whether his pace and vision from fullback can help break the Southland defensive lines. Michael Allardice will provide experience in the forward pack, while Ryan Tongia gets a chance to impress Magpies coach Craig Philpott.