PREVIEW: Otago v Counties

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Thursday, October 6, 2016    Getty Images

Match details:
Otago v Counties, 5.35pm Saturday 8 October, Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Played: 36
Wins: Counties Manukau 18, Otago 18
Last match: Counties Manukau 29, Otago 25 (2014)
Last Otago win: Otago 30, Counties Manukau 14 (2011)
Biggest differential: Otago by 36 (43–7) in 1990

Gloucester-bound prop Josh Hohneck wasn’t expected to play for Otago this season but has answered an SOS call and will come onto the bench for this clash. In all, Otago has made six changes to the side that was thumped 54-17 by Auckland last week. Among the changes are the return of Sam Anderson Heather at hooker and Adam Knight coming into a reshuffled loose forward trio with regular Captain Paul Grant out injured. In the backs, Scott Eade comes in for Fletcher Smith and Sio Tomkinson replaces Matt Faddes. The Steelers have made just one change to their starting lineup with Richard Judd replacing the suspended Augustine Pulu at halfback.

Counties-Manukau’s record of four wins and four losses this year isn’t as bad when one point losses to both Taranaki and Wellington are taken into account. Otago started strongly this year with six straight wins before losing their last two matches to Canterbury and Auckland respectively. This is a vital clash for both sides with a win propelling Otago into first place on the Championship ladder while the Steelers need to keep winning to have any chance of making the Premiership playoffs.

Former All Blacks Sevens rep Sam Vaka has been a standout at centre for the Steelers over recent weeks and will relish the chance to face another strong ball runner in Sio Tomkinson. Vaka has made a number of try scoring opportunities for Counties-Manukau this season which haven’t been finished off. If the Steelers outside backs can become more clinical in their finishing then the visitors could rack up quick points against an Otago side that has proved solid on defence in 2016.

Otago: Michael Collins, Mitchell Scott, Sio Tomkinson, Tei Walden, Fa’asiu Fuata’i, Scott Eade, Jonathan Ruru, Naulia Dawai, James Lentjes, Adam Knight, Tom Franklin, Blair Tweed, Donald Brighouse, Sam Anderson-Heather (captain), Craig Millar. Reserves: Sekonaia Pole, Jonah Aoina, Josh Hohneck, Josh Dickson, Sione Teu, Kaide Whiting, Fletcher Smith, Matt Faddes.

Counties-Manukau: Luteru Laulala, Sione Fifita, Sam Vaka, Cardiff Vaega, Sherwin Stowers, Piers Francis, Richard Judd, Sootala Fa’aso’o, Jordan Taufua, Jimmy Tupou (captain), Matiaha Martin, Viliame Rarasea, Kalolo Tuiloma, Gafatasi Su’a, Sean Bagshaw. Reserves: Hika Elliot, Pauliasi Manu, Sione Faletau, Matt Vaai, Joshua Dowling, Jonathan Taumateine, Joe Reynolds, Toni Pulu.