Preview: Otago v Auckland

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HEAD TO HEAD: Played 81; Otago 20, Auckland 53, drawn 8.

LAST TIME: October 11, 2012 (Dunedin) - Otago 19-24 Auckland.

MISSING IN ACTION: Craig Millar and Tom Franklin are sitting out the Auckland match after shouldering heavy workloads. The starting XV sees the return of Liam Coltman, Tom Donnelly, Gareth Evans, Fumiaki Tanaka, Hayden Parker and Kieran Moffat.

Auckland welcome back Piri Weepu from international duty as well as Luke Braid and Vince Aso from injuries. The trio will start from the bench.

FORM: Otago have had an interesting season, with many highlights and some sour lowlights. A short, week-long tenure with the Ranfurly Shield seemed to lift the side only for them to relinquish it to Hawke's Bay. From there they travelled to Tasman and registered their first loss to their southern neighbours. The 16-49 defeat looked to have taken the energy and steam out of what was a promising season, but three wins in their last five matches has seen them consolidate their spot in the top four of the championship once more.

Auckland have had an impressive year that features just two defeats. Having squeaked past North Harbour (27-20) and Manawatu (21-18), the premiership contenders continued their way to a five-match winning streak. That run was snapped in superb fashion by Waikato, who ran out 42-24 winners at Waikato Stadium. Auckland responded superbly with a 39-19 win two weeks later before succumbing to Wellington to lie third.

WE THINK: The oldest provincial match up could be the game of the round if Otago find their motivation. Beaten championship finalists in 2012, Otago have an opportunity to land a home semi-final with a win. Auckland, by contrast, have had their fate sealed by semi-final opponents Canterbury.

Whether Otago can secure just their 21st win in 82 matches over Auckland in a fixture that dates back to 1875 remains to be seen. Regardless, it should be one hell of a battle and one that could provide either side with the perfect preparation for the semi-ifinals. Otago by 2.

Otago: 1. Tama Tuirirangi, 2. Liam Coltman, 3. Scott Manson, 4. Tom Donnelly, 5. Charlie O'Connell, 6. Gareth Evans, 7. Lee Allan, 8. Paul Grant (c), 9. Fumiaki Tanaka, 10. Hayden Parker, 11. Matt Faddes, 12. Jayden Spence, 13. Kieran Moffat, 14. Buxton Popoali'i, 15. Tony Ensor.

Substitutes: 16. Sam Anderson-Heather/Sam Sturgess, 17. Aki Seiuli, 18. Ezra Taylor, 19. TJ Ioane, 20. Josh Renton, 21. Peter Breen, 22. Teihorangi Walden.

Auckland: 1. Sam Prattley, 2. Tom McCartney, 3. Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 4. Liaki Moli, 5. Jack Whetton, 6. Sean Polwart, 7. Kara Pryor, 8. Peter Saili, 9. Wayne Ngaluafe, 10. Simon Hickey, 11. George Moala, 12. Hadleigh Parkes (c), 13. Malakai Fekitoa, 14. Tenina Sauileoge, 15. Lolagi Visinia.

Substitutes: 16. Nathan Vella, 17. Pauliasi Manu, 18. Luke Braid, 19. Sean Brookman, 20. Angus Ta'avao, 21. Piri Weepu, 22. Vince Aso.