Preview: Canterbury v Auckland

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Friday, August 19, 2016    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Form: Neither side managed a win in their warm-up games. Canterbury, in the Cantabrians guise, lost to Otago (Sassenachs) 22-24 while also losing to Wellington 14-43 while Auckland lost to North Harbour 21-45 and Bay of Plenty 21-22.

Played: 97

Wins: Canterbury 45, Auckland 47, Drawn 5

Last match: Canterbury 25 Auckland 23 (Premiership final – 2015)

Canterbury: 1.Alex Hodgman, 2.Ben Funnell, 3.Siate Tokolahi, 4.Scott Barrett, 5.Dominic Bird, 6.Reed Prinsep, 7.Billy Harmon, 8.Luke Whitelock (captain), 9.Mitchell Drummond, 10.Richie Mo'unga, 11.Nathan Earle, 12.Rob Thompson, 13.Jack Goodhue, 14.Johnny McNicholl, 15.Jordie Barrett.

Substitutes: 16.Nathan Vella, 17.Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18.Oliver Jager, 19.Luke Romano, 20.Jed Brown, 21.Jack Stratton, 22.Inga Finau, 23.Ben Volavola.

Auckland: 1.Sam Prattley, 2.Greg Pleasants-Tate, 3.Isi Tu'ungafasi, 4.Scott Scrafton, 5.Liaki Moli, 6.Taleni Seu, 7.Joe Edwards, 8.Steven Luatua, 9.Leon Fukafuka, 10.Simon Hickey, 11.Pryor Collier, 12.Vince Aso, 13.Rieko Ioane, 14.Stacey Ili, 15.Melani Nanai.

Substitutes: 16.Kurt Eklund, 17.Tom McHugh, 18.Marcel Renata, 19.Michael Fatialofa, 20.Akira Ioane, 21.Jono Hickey, 22.Tyrone Elkington-Macdonald, 23.Latiume Fosita.

Squad news: Canterbury have three players making their debuts in the starting XV, openside flanker Billy Harmon, left wing Nathan Earle and fullback Jordie Barrett. In the substitutes for the pack making their debut will be Nathan Vella and Oliver Jager while in the backs Inga Finau and Ben Volavola are newcomers. For Auckland, Liaki Moli, back from Japan where he played for the Sunwolves in Super Rugby will make his 50th appearance for the union. Debut players in the starting XV are left wing Pryor Collier and right win Stacey Ili. First five-eighths Tyrone Elkington-Macdonald and utility Latiume Fosita are set to make debuts from the substitutes.

Key Players: Canterbury captain and No.8 Luke Whitelock will be important for his side in this game, especially in the absence with the All Blacks of Matt Todd, in the loose exchanges. That will mean newcomer Harmon will have some pressure on. Their rivals, Steven Luatua, Joe Edwards and Taleni Seu offer a big challenge in the loose while the respective firepower in the backlines is headed by wing Johnny McNicholl for Canterbury and fullback Melani Nanai for Auckland.

Both sides could naturally expect to meet again the last game of the competition as the Premiership heavies, and a good outing here would help shape their seasons from the outset. Canterbury hold a slight edge at home, and it may be that their Crusaders inside pairing of halfback Mitch Drummond and first five-eighths Richie Mo'unga have a slight edge for their side.