Preview: Hawke's Bay v Waikato (RS)
Thursday, October 8, 2015 ITMCup.co.nz Getty Images
Form: Hawke's Bay's undefeated home record isn't the only thing for the side to be proud of in 2015. The Ranfurly Shield defenders hold top spot in the Championship, three points clear of Wellington. They've beaten Southland (35-28), Auckland (17-12) and Bay of Plenty (23-17), while they drew with Wellington 22-22 courtesy of a late try to Robbie Fruean. Given the match is a Ranfurly Shield defence, the stakes are quite high. However, add in the opportunity to host a Championship home final and it's clear the Magpies will do everything in their power to make the 2015 season one to remember.
At the other end of the form book, Waikato enter Friday's clash having lost four on the trot. While the nature of those losses have varied from hard-fought (14-21 v Wellington, 17-18 v Canterbury) to hard-to-watch (9-30 v Counties, 0-41 v Taranaki), the Mooloos find themselves two points ahead of bottom-placed Manawatu, but the latter's do-or-die clash with playoffs-bound Wellington means the visitors need a win to secure Premiership rugby in 2016.
Waikato are definitely the underdogs, however as we have seen in numerous Ranfurly Shield challenges in 2015, if the less fancied side can stay in the match with 10 minutes to go, it can be anyone's game. These fixtures have been rare beasts, with the two teams meeting only twice in the last five years.
Wins: Hawke's Bay 20, Waikato 25, Draws 2
Last Time: Waikato 28 Hawke's Bay 3, Hamilton 2012
HAWKE'S BAY: Unavailable at the time of publishing.
WAIKATO: 1.Loni Uhila, 2.Hame Faiva, 3.Josh Hohneck, 4.James Tucker, 5.Peni Iowane, 6.Adam Burn, 7.Mitch Jacobson, 8.Josh Tyrell, 9.Brad Weber (captain), 10.Damian McKenzie, 11.Dylan Collier, 12. Anton Lienert-Brown, 13.Chauncy Edwardson, 14.Jordan Trainor, 15.Shaun Stevenson.
Reserves: 16.Tyrone Te Ruruku, 17.Tau Koloamatangi, 18.Ben Tameifuna, 19.Whetu Douglas, 20.Murray Iti, 21.Harrison Levien, 22.Wharenui Hawera, 23.Jordan Payne.
Squad Update: It seems a hefty way to finish the round robin, but if any team can play three games in 10 days – culminating in a Ranfurly Shield defence – then it's Hawke's Bay. They'll be doing so without Israel Dagg, whose season was ended with a dislocated shoulder. Craig Philpott and Danny Lee will, however, welcome back Andrew Horrell and Richard Buckman from injury to the delight of the Napier faithful.
As for Waikato, spare a thought for Stephen Donald. It's almost four years since his heroics sealed New Zealand's first Rugby World Cup since 1987, but any chances to win more silverware – this time with Waikato – have been dashed through injury. Centre Chauncy Stevenson gets his first start of 2015, while Loni Uhila returns from suspension to take his place in the front row. Waikato have had a full week to recover and train ahead of this encounter, while Hawke's Bay play their third game in 10 days.
Key Players: Chris Eaton joins a select group of players when he runs out to his 100th ITM Cup match for Hawke's Bay. Buckman's return will have the Waikato defences looking nervously on, while Ihaia West will again have an opportunity to show the ITM Cup form from previous years that saw him quickly elevated to the Blues No.10 jersey in 2015. This clash has plenty riding on it, but getting the combinations right before the playoffs will be at the back of masterminds Philpott and Lee come kickoff.
We've said it time and time before, but there's no going past captain Brad Weber for Waikato. His dainty footwork and ability to spot gaps at the breakdown make him a menace Hawke's Bay must control. His partnership with Damian McKenzie will be crucial if Waikato are to remain confident and in contention as the minutes tick by at McLean Park. Meanwhile, 2014 New Zealand Schools wing and Jock Hobb's Under 19 standout Jordan Trainor has a hefty job to do on debut in a match with so much on the line, including the Ranfurly Shield and Premiership survival.
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