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Preview: Counties Manukau v Auckland

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Friday, October 9, 2015    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Auckland, however, will have other ideas as they know a win would be sufficient to ensure them a home semi-final against Tasman next weekend.

Form: Counties Manukau have finished the season strongly and while just missing a play-offs berth they ended well clear of the relegation zone that looked possible at one stage. Losing to Championship sides Bay of Plenty and North Harbour was a low point but in the last two rounds they have been Premiership sides Tasman and Waikato to lend credibility to their year.

Auckland have only a blemish in their Ranfurly Shield challenge against Hawke's Bay to show on the debit side in recent games and the record romp they had against Northland last weekend showed the sort of danger they can pose to any side.

Played: 57
Wins: Counties Manukau 12, Auckland 44, Drawn 1
Most recent: Counties Manukau 41 Auckland 18, at Pukekohe, 2014

Teams:

COUNTIES MANUKAU: 1.Pauliasi Manu, 2.Gafatasi Su'a, 3.Sam Aiono, 4.Jimmy Tupou (captain), 5.Sikeli Nabou, 6.Jordan Taufua, 7.Sam Henwood, 8.Maama Vaipulu, 9.Richard Judd, 10.Piers Francis, 11.Sione Fifita, 12.Cardiff Vaega, 13.Sam Vaka, 14.Frank Halai, 15.Tony Pulu.

Reserves: 16.Sione Anga'aelangi, 17.Sean Bagshaw, 18.Jarrod Firth, 19.Viliame Rarasea, 20.Onosa'i Auva'a, 21.Pele Cowley, 22.Willy Walker, 23.Johnny Faauli.

AUCKLAND: 1.Sam Prattley, 2.Greg Pleasants-Tate, 3.Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 4.Michael Fatialofa, 5.Scott Scrafton, 6.Taleni Seu, 7.Mitch Karpik, 8.Akira Ioane, 9.Kaito Shigeno, 10.Simon Hickey (captain), 11.Ben Lam, 12.George Moala, 13.Charles Piutau, 14.Bryce Heem, 15.Melani Nanai.

Reserves: 16.Kurt Eklund, 17. Marcel Renata, 18.Isi Tu-ungafasi, 19.William Lloyd, 20.Matt Matich, 21.Jono Hickey, 22.Mitch Hunt, 23.Rieko Ioane.

Squad news: Jordan Taufua is back on the side of the scrum for Counties Manukau and No.8 Maama Vaipulu, who withdrew late last week, has been cleared to play. Front rowers Sione Anga'aelangi and Jarrod Firth are back in the reserves along with lock Viliame Rarasea and loose forward Onosa'i Auva'a.

In Auckland's pack Joe Edwards' shoulder injury has prevented him playing and his place is taken by Taleni Seu while halfback is filled by Kaito Shigeno and Bryce Heem is back on the wing.

Key players: Counties Manukau's big men up front, Pauliasi Manu, Sam Aiono and Gafatasi Su'a in the front row and locks Jimmy Tupou and Sikeli Nabou will need to be nose to the grindstone for their side because the Auckland tight five have been consistently good this year and have the added bonus of knowing that their backs are well capable of making use of good ball wherever they get it on the field. The defensive line will also be important for the home team. Fullback Tony Pulu's incursions into the backline and the skills of wings Frank Halai and Sione Fifita will need to be sharp to take advantages of opportunities coming their way.

Mitch Karpik has had a big year for Auckland and will find the intensity won't lessen against some of the big bodies Counties Manukau will have in the field on Saturday. No.8 Akira Ioane will also be a figure for containment for the home side but again the dangers posed by Auckland's back five are likely to be the biggest threat on the night.