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PREVIEW: Auckland v Waikato

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Friday, September 9, 2016    allblacks.com    Getty Images

Match details: Auckland v Waikato, Sunday 11 September, 4.35pm, Eden Park, Auckland

Played: 139
Wins: Auckland 95, Waikato 39
Draws: 5
Last match: Auckland 50, Waikato 28 (2015)

FORM
After being thumped by Canterbury in week one, Auckland have bounced back with wins over Northland, Southland and Hawke’s Bay. Although their confidence will be high, they may fatigued from a short four day turnaround from their last match against Hawke’s Bay. Waikato started with a loss to Tasman before defending the Ranfurly Shield in two hard-fought contests against North Harbour and Manawatu. 



SQUAD NEWS
The Auckland forward pack has been bolstered by the inclusion of All Blacks Ofa Tu'ungafasi and Patrick Tuipulotu and the long awaited return of promising loose forward Blake Gibson. Gibson has had a horror run of injuries and will be itching to make a mark in his first appearance for Auckland since 2015. The return of the trio is timely with Taleni Seu, Sam Prattley, Melani Nanai and Lolagi Visinia all missing through injury. Waikato have also been boosted by the inclusion of All Blacks Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Damian McKenzie to round out an exciting backline.

PLAYERS TO WATCH
While a lot of the focus will be on the returning All Blacks, the Ioane brothers, Rieko and Akira, have been in scintillating form for Auckland and will need to be watched closely by the Waikato defence. For Waikato, centre Willis Halaholo has been looking dangerous this season and likes to step up for big games. This could be just the platform for Halaholo to showcase his game breaking ability.

TEAMS
Auckland: Tyrone Elkington-MacDonald, Joe Ravouvou, Rieko Ioane, Vince Aso, Pryor Collier, Simon Hickey (c), Leon Fukofuka, Akira Ioane, Blake Gibson, Liaki Moli, Patrick Tuipulotu, Michael Fatialofa, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Greg Pleasants-Tate, Isi Tu'ungafasi;
Reserves: Kurt Eklund, Tom McHugh, Marcel Renata, Scott Scrafton, Joe Edwards, Jono Hickey, Latiume Fosita, Pasqualle Dunn

Waikato: Jordan Trainor, Iliesa Ratuva Tavuyara, Willis Halaholo, Sam Christie, Sevu Reece, Damian McKenzie, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Whetu Douglas (c), Mitch Jacobson, Jordan Manihera, Brian Alainu'uese, Jacob Skeen, Atu Moli, Hame Faiva, Loni Uhila;
Reserves: Steven Misa, Sefo Kautai, Latu Talakai, Adam Burn, Murray Iti, Harrison Levien, Tevita Taufui, Tyler Campbell