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Preview: Auckland v Tasman

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Thursday, October 15, 2015    ITMCup.co.nz    Getty Images

Form: Auckland started the season with a 23-23 win over Southland, but regained their composure to win seven of their following nine matches to finish in second. Their points for/against are incredibly similar to Tasman (339/232), and enter having scored 95 points in their last two matches, against Northland (64-21) and Counties Manukau (31-16).

Tasman ended the round robin with a seven win, three-loss record that included a 35-17 over Taranaki to finish pool play. They lost to fellow semi-finalists Canterbury (25-41) and Auckland (19-28), but enter the competition playoffs having scored the third-highest number of points (331) while conceding a satisfactory 236 points. They're a team high on confidence, having reached the final against Taranaki last year.

Played: Seven
Wins: Auckland 4, Tasman 2, Drawn 1
Last Time: Tasman 19 Auckland 28, Trafalgar Park, 2015

Teams:
AUCKLAND: 1.Isi Tu'ungafasi, 2.Greg Pleasants-Tate, 3.Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 4.Michael Fatialofa, 5.Scott Scrafton, 6.Joe Edwards, 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.Tom McHugh, 18.Jono Owen, 19.William Lloyd, 20.Matt Matich, 21.Jono Hickey, 22.Mitch Hunt, 23.Vince Aso.

TASMAN: 1.Kane Hames, 2.Quentin MacDonald, 3.Siua Halanukonuka, 4.Alex Ainley, 5.Joe Wheeler, 6.Vernon Fredericks, 7.Shane Christie (captain), 8.Liam Squire, 9.Jimmy Cowan, 10.Marty Banks, 11.Kade Poki, 12.David Havili, 13.Kieron Fonotia, 14.Mitchell Scott, 15.Trent Renata.

Reserves: 16.Jesse MacDonald, 17.Brock Kaahu, 18.Ross Geldenhuys, 19.Marco Kotze, 20.Peter Samu, 21.James Lash, 22.Alex Nankivell, 23.Trael Joass

Squad Update: Joe Edwards returns for the hosts from injury to take back the No.6 jersey, but Auckland will still have Sam Prattley unavailable through injury. Isi Tu'ungafasi will take his place at loosehead prop and will be partnering brother Ofa in the front row.

Tasman, meanwhile, will be without isntrumental fullback Robbie Malneek and Viliami Lolohea, both who are unavailable with hamstring injuries.

Players to Watch: Akira Ioane has something about him that screams 'future All Black'. Expect plenty of impact and dynamicism from the No.8. Also entering this semi-final with some form behind them is left wing Ben Lam. The former Sevens star has made the wing his own this year, and with the likes of George Moala and Charles Piutau in the centres, it's fair to say Auckland have an x-factor-laden backline for Friday's clash.

Expect another blinder from Tasman captain Shane Christie. The Makos loosie has been in great touch again in 2015 and continues to hold the title of the most underrated No.7 in New Zealand rugby. Marty Banks will gobble up any points on offer as he continues his quest for another top pointscorer title, while Liam Squire should continue his bruising form that earnt him a Chiefs contract last year.