PREVIEW: Counties Manukau v Waikato

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Friday, September 23, 2016    Getty Images

Match details: Counties Manukau v Waikato, 7.35pm, Friday 23 September, ECOlight Stadium, Pukekohe

Played: 60
Wins: Counties Manukau 21, Waikato 38, Draws 1
Last match: Counties Manukau 30 Waikato 9 (2015)
Biggest winning margin: Waikato by 67 (67–0) in 1989

Waikato are on a hot run of form with three Ranfurly Shield defences against North Harbour, Manawatu and Taranaki sandwiched by an impressive away victory over Auckland. Counties Manukau suffered back-to-back one point losses to Wellington and Taranaki before overcoming Auckland 30-26 last week.

Waikato are feeling the heat from a steady run of Ranfurly Shield defences with five changes made to the starting line-up for this clash. Harrison Levien comes in at half back in place of All Blacks bound Tawera Kerr Barlow in the only change to the backline while four changes have been made to the pack. In the tight five, Josh Iosefa-Scott comes in for his first start at tighthead prop with Brad Tucker lining up in the second row. In the loose forwards, Adam Burn and Mitchell Jacobsen join Captain Whetu Douglas in the starting line-up. Counties have made only one change to their starting line-up with lock Matiaha Martin replacing Matt Vaai. The real talking point is on the bench though, where recent All Blacks Pauliasi Manu and Hika Elliot have been named
One of the most defining head-to-head clashes in this match will happen at openside flanker where Jordan Taufua mixes it up with the promising Mitchell Jacobsen. Taufua has been a standout for the Steelers this year with his industrious work around the park matched by his devastating ball running. Jacobsen is one of the rising stars of New Zealand rugby and will relish the opportunity to mix it with one of the best operators in the competition.

Waikato: Tyler Campbell, Iliesa Ratuva Tavuyara, Willis Halaholo, Tevita Taufui, Sevu Reece, Sam Christie, Harrison Levien; Whetu Douglas (c), Mitch Jacobson, Adam Burn, Brian Alainu'uese, Brad Tucker, Josh Iosefa-Scott, Hame Faiva, Latu Talakai. Reserves: Steven Misa, Tau Koloamatangi, Ayden Johnstone, Leva Fifita, Murray Iti, Pele Cowley, Jason Robertson, Milford Keresoma.

Counties Manukau: Luteru Laulala, Sione Fifita, Sam Vaka, Cardiff Vaega, Sherwin Stowers; Piers Francis, Augustine Pulu, Sootala Fa'aso'o, Jordan Taufua, Jimmy Tupou, Matiaha Martin, Viliame Rarasea, Kalolo Tuiloma, Gafatasi Su'a, Sean Bagshaw. Reserves: Hika Elliot, Pauliasi Manu, Sione Faletau, Matt Vaai, Onosa'i Auva'a, Richard Judd, Nathan de Thierry, Joe Ikenasio.