PREVIEW: Southland v Auckland

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Wednesday, August 31, 2016    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Form: Southland have lost both games played so far in the competition, losing 17-40 to Otago and being robbed of a draw after the final hooter in Palmerston North when losing 31-34 to Manawatu. Auckland suffered a hammering when losing to Canterbury 43-3 in Christchurch but returned to the winner's circle with a 37-15 win over Northland.

Played: 53

Wins: Southland 8, Auckland 42, Draws 3

Last match: Southland 23 Auckland 23, Invercargill 2015

Southland: 1.Joseph Walsh, 2.Brayden Mitchell, 3.Morgan Mitchell, 4.Mike McKee, 5.Matthew Philip, 6.Bill Fukofuka, 7.Phil Halder, 8.Mike Mafi, 9.Jimmy Cowan, 10.Lima Sopoaga, 11.Jaye Thompson, 12.James Schrader, 13.Dylan Collier, 14.Mike Molloy, 15.Junior Ngaluafe.

Substitutes: 16.Ezekiel Sopoaga, 17.Peni Ravai, 18.Guy Millar, 19.Mike Stewart, 20.Wade McRad, 21.Jahvis Wallace, 22.Kieran Moffat, 23.Tauasosi Tuimavave.

Auckland: 1.Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 2.Greg Pleasants-Tate, 3.Charlie Faumuina, 4.Scott Scrafton, 5.Patrick Tuipulotu, 6.Joe Edwards, 7.Akira Ioane, 8.Steve Luatua, 9.Leon Fukofuka, 10.Simon Hickey, 11.Pryor Collier, 12.Vince Aso, 13.Rieko Ioane, 14.Joeseva Ravouvou, 15.Tyrone Elkington-Macdonald.

Substitutes: 16.Kurt Eklund, 17.Tom McHugh, 18.Marcel Renata, 19.Michael Fatialofa, 20.Taleni Seu, 21.Jono Hickey, 22.Latiume Fosita, 23.Pasqualle Dunn.

Squad Update: Auckland have been seriously bolstered by returning All Blacks. Lock Patrick Tuipulotu shapes as a commanding figure in the game for Auckland while the strength of Charlie Faumuina, and the need for Ofa Tu'ungafasi to sort out some scrummaging issues will ensure Southland's front row of a tough test. And Rieko Ioane at centre should be another interesting prospect. Wharenui Hawera had originally been named to play first five-eighths in the game with Lima Sopoaga at fullback but the latest team list has Sopoaga at first five-eighths. Also in the side is Sopoaga's younger brother Ezekiel who is the reserve hooker for Southland.

Key Players: Auckland's All Blacks, and their highly-talented loose forwards Steven Luatua, Joe Edwards and Akira Ioane pose the biggest threat to the southerners in this game. While the backline might not be overflowing with star players much attention will be paid to centre Rieko Ioane while second five-eighths Vince Aso is always a dangerous player in midfield.

Southland's inexperienced pack face a massive test and it will take guidance from the experienced inside back pairing of halfback Jimmy Cowan and Lima Sopoaga outside him to help the side negotiate this threat. Wing Jaye Thompson and fullback Junior Ngaluafe have shaped promisingly in games so far on attack but it is their defensive abilities that will be tested this time around.

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