Championship preview: Hawke’s Bay v Bay of Plenty

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Thursday, September 6, 2018    Campbell Bures    Getty Images

Match details: Saturday September 8, 4.35pm at McLean Park, Napier
Referee: Richard Kelly (Taranaki)
Played: 50 (1922-2017)
Wins: BOP 27, Hawke’s Bay 22, Drawn 1
Last match: Bay of Plenty 46 Hawke’s Bay 17 (August 25, 2017)

Shutting down the offloading game of Magpies fullback Jamie-Jerry Taulagi, who has a Mitre 10 Cup-leading 10 offloads to his name in three outings, will be a priority for the Steamers’ defensive system.

Hawke’s Bay has a curious home record since 2016, winning just two of 11 matches at McLean Park, but the Magpies have won four of their last five home games against Bay of Plenty.

The Steamers, conversely, are gunning for their third straight win over the Magpies. That would be a first since the 2006 expansion of the provincial competition. 

Hawke’s Bay is leading the Championship standings by virtue of bonus points (four to the Steamers’ none), but after two pleasing away wins against Southland and Otago, they came a cropper to the tune of 25-29 to Counties Manukau last Sunday.

Bay of Plenty turned heads with two crossover victories to open its campaign but Clayton McMillan’s men were worn down, 31-19, by Canterbury on a sun-soaked Tauranga Domain last Saturday.

How about the battle of the halfbacks, Brad Weber versus Richard Judd?

Weber is fleet of foot and swift of pass, while the energetic Judd, with his third province, is a tenacious defender who loves to snipe around the fringes of rucks.

The respective packs may decide who wins this contest, as what halfback – other than the great Sid Going – can strut their stuff when the men in front of them are in reverse?
Magpies coach Mark Ozich has wheeled out a largely unchanged line-up, placing faith in his charges to reduce the errors that bedevilled their defeat to the Steelers last Sunday.

Captain and hooker Ash Dixon is out, replaced by Ben Power, while Chiefs lock Michael Allardice comes into the No 5 jersey for Sam Ulufonua.

The Magpies loose forwards, led by the indefatigable Gareth Evans, who is among the leaders in stats for carries and offloads, will have their hands full with the Steamers trio of Hoani Matenga, Mitch Karpik and Tanerau Latimer. Scotland international Hugh Blake will come off the pine for the visitors.

Hawke’s Bay speedsters Jonah Lowe and Mason Emerson will need to search for work if no space is created on the inside for them.

Last year, Bay of Plenty made no race of this clash, but smart money would say this will be very tight on Saturday afternoon.

Hawke’s Bay:
JJ Taulagi, Jonah Lowe, Stacey Ili, Sasa Tofilau, Mason Emerson, Tiaan Falcon, Brad Weber, Gareth Evans, Josh Kaifa, Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, Michael Allardice, Tom Parsons, Ben May, Ben Power, Mark Braidwood
Reserves: Kianu Kereru-Symes, Joe Apikatoa, Pouri Rakete-Stones, Geoff Cridge, Will Tremain, Folau Fakatava, Pasqualle Dunn, Michael Buckley

Bay of Plenty: Chase Tiatia, Fa’asiu Fuatai, Liam Steel, Terrence Hepetema, Matt Garland, Mike Delany (c), Richard Judd, Hoani Matenga, Mitch Karpik, Tanerau Latimer (c), Baden Wardlaw, Kane Leaupepe, Ross Geldenhuys, Tom Crozier, Solomona Sakalia
Reserves: Angus McDonald, James Lay, Jeff Thwaites, Aaron Carroll, Hugh Blake, Luke Campbell, Jason Robertson, Trael Joass