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Preview: Waikato v Northland

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Sportal.co.nz     16 Aug 2013     Getty Images

/>HEAD TO HEAD: Played 72; Waikato 46, Northland 24, drawn 2.
LAST TIME: September 1, 2012 (Hamilton) - Waikato 27-29 Northland

MISSING IN ACTION: The Chiefs' find of the season, Matt Vant Leven, and big-hitting prop Ben Tameifuna are both unavailable for Saturday's clash. Both are recovering from their Super Rugby success but should be back in the next week or so.

Vant Leven's unavailability means Jackson Willison will take the reins as captain for the Ranfurly Shield defence.

The visitors, meanwhile, are without Fijian recruit Rupeni Caucaunibuca. The former Blues star was not included in the 22-man team and will need to work his way to full fitness if he is to trouble the matchday squad.

FORM:
Not too much to write home about for both sides in regards to pre-season form. Two comprehensive Ranfurly Shield defences against Horowhenua-Kapiti and East Coast were contrasted with a draw against North Harbour and a 17-31 loss to Taranaki.

Northland have had a mixed bag, too, with a 27-36 loss to Auckland followed up with a 21-17 win over newly-promoted Counties Manukau.

WE THINK: Both sides have undeniable stars in the midfield but it will come down to which team operates better at set piece time.

Northland's scrum was shaky at best in their four-point pre-season win over Counties and with a big match over a side featuring Toby Smith and Jack Lam, it could be a tough ask.

But a win is not entirely out of the equation. Waikato enter the match littered with talent but tainted with poor form. New halfback Kylem O'Donnell will need to shift the ball quickly to get the most of the star-studded backline.

Adding the Ranfurly Shield to the match will add some spice and extra tension, but nothing either side can't overcome. Expect a tight tussle up front and a spirited display from Northland, but ultimately the Ranfurly Shield should stay in Mooloo territory. Waikato by 10

TEAMS:
Waikato:
1. Toby Smith, 2. Brayden Mitchell, 3. Paul Alo-Emile, 4. Brian Alainu'uese, 5. Sam Kilgour, 6. Rory Grice, 7. Jack Lam, 8. Adam Burn, 9. Kylem O'Donnell, 10. Sam Christie, 11. Joe Webber, 12. Jackson Willison (c), 13. Save Tokula, 14. Tim Mikkelson, 15. Trent Renata.

Substitutes: 16. Vance Elliott, 17. Latu Talakai, 18. Chris Middleton, 19. Jono Armstrong, 20. Mick Snowden, 21. Joe Perawiti, 22. Semisi Masirewa.

Northland:
1. Bronson Murray, 2. Ross Wright, 3. Scott Vessey, 4. Tom Murday, 5. Bryce Williams, 6. Dan Pryor, 7. Jack Ram, 8. Jake Paringatai, 9. Sonatane Takulua, 10. Ben Seymour, 11. Mateo Malupo, 12. Derek Carpenter, 13. Rene Ranger (c), 14. Whiria Meltzer, 15. Mathew Wright

Substitutes: 16. Robbie Abel, 17. Justin Davies, 18. Owen Pihema, 19. William Whetton, 20. Mac Sykes, 21. Daniel Hawkins, 22. Warren Dunn.