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Preview: Counties Manukau v Waikato

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Sportal.co.nz     06 Aug 2011     Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: Growers Stadium, Pukekohe, Sunday August 7 @ 1435

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 56; Counties-Manukau 19, Waikato 36, drawn 1.

LAST TIME: August 28, 2010 (Hamilton) – Waikato 39-3 Counties-Manukau.

WALKING WOUNDED: Counties-Manukau has followed its normal pattern of cycling the squad through the run-on XV and shows nine changes from Dunedin. Perhaps the most interest will be in Tim Nanai-Williams, who returns to the bench after a prolonged absence. Stephen Donald returns to a much-changed Waikato team after the neck problem that has kept him sidelined for the last couple of weeks has cleared. Nathan White resumes the captaincy after sitting the last game out.

FORM:
Counties-Manukau:
Round 1: lost to Bay of Plenty 13-20 (h)
Round 2: beat Manawatu 32-25 (h)
Round 3: beat Tasman 32-23 (a)
Round 4: lost to Southland 14-22 (a, RS)
Round 5: lost to Otago 14-30 (a)

Waikato:
Round 1: beat Southland 19-9 (a)
Round 2: lost to Taranaki 23-30 (h)
Round 3: lost to Bay of Plenty 8-36 (a)
Round 4: beat Tasman 35-6 (h)

After a good little burst the Steelers return from a tough southern tour with no further points and a lot more bruises following two very physical forward clashes. Although beaten both times, Counties played well in both matches but lapses in discipline hurt; Southland kicked five penalty goals from six chances and Otago six from six. The defence was good when it had to be and the forwards had long periods of dominance in both matches although the traditional scoring punch was missing at times, even with due allowance being made for the rain and cold. Waikato has not played since last Friday - the competition is so congested that it almost seems like last year - and beat Tasman both comprehensively and comfortably last time out. While it took until the last play of the game to collect a fourth try, Waikato was worth the five points it collected.

WHO'S HOT: Taiasina Tuifua is a player the Steelers will look to this week, as his damaging running and equally damaging defence can both inspire a side. On song, he is one of the more dangerous big loosies in the competition. Former Waikato man David Bason has had several good outings at halfback this season and has often added spark to the side. He's not scared to have a run and should get his backs away smoothly. As noted above, Tim Nanai-Williams returns to the matchday 23 and this guy has been missed; he is one of the more talented young players around and regularly makes something out of not much.
Waikato loses hooker Aled de Malmanche after this game, as he heads off to France on Monday. He has been a trooper for his union and no doubt the team wants to see him off in some style. Rory Grice has been in and out of the side, as has almost everyone, but what he has showed in his first season suggests he's a bloke with a good future. Fast and athletic, he has been prominent in his matches. Decaln O’Donnell began his first-class career quietly but in the last couple of matches he has showed out for many reasons, displaying pace, agility and good rugby intelligence down the wing and he, too, looks a handy prospect.

WE THINK: While we know the Steelers pack won't give up at any stage, there is a question over how much two very physical contests have taken out of them although most forwards only started once. A refreshed Waikato should be able to handle the clashes up front and has the backs to threaten, which is why Waikato by 10 sounds about right.

TEAMS:

Counties-Manukau: 1. Simon Lemalu, 2. Grant Henson, 3. Matt Talaese, 4. Ronald Raaymakers, 5. Jamie Chipman (capt), 6. Taiasina Tuifua, 7. DJ Forbes, 8. Fritz Lee, 9. David Bason, 10. Tasesa Lavea or Baden Kerr, 11. Tyrone Lefau, 12. Niva Ta’auso, 13. Reynold Lee-Lo, 14. Ahsee Tuala, 15. Sherwin Stowers.

Reserves: 16. Mark Price, 17. Jeremiah Fatialofa, 18. Adam Cathcart, 19. Mark Selwyn, 20. August Pulu, 21. Bundee Aki, 22. Tim Nanai-Williams, 23. Ihipa Thompson.


Waikato: 1. Ted Tauroa, 2. Aled de Malmanche, 3. Nathan White (capt), 4. Toby Lynn, 5. Chris Middleton, 6. Jack Lam, 7. Zack Hohneck, 8. Rory Grice, 9. Brendon Leonard, 10. Stephen Donald, 11. Declan O'Donnell, 12. Jackson Willison, 13. Save Tokula, 14. Henry Speight, 15. Tim Mikkelson.

Reserves: 16. Vance Elliott, 17. Ben May, 18. Matt Vant Leven, 19. Marty Holah, 20. Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 21. Sam Christie, 22. Trent Renata, 23. Latu Talakai.



REFEREE: Kane McBride