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Preview: Tasman v Waikato

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    19 Aug 2016     Getty Images


Match details: Tasman v Waikato, Sunday 21 August, 4.35pm, Blenheim

Games: 9
Wins: Tasman 5, Waikato 4
Last Match: Tasman 35, Waikato 20 (2015)

FORM
Tasman enter the Mitre 10 Cup on a winning note, with a 24-14 win over a Manawatu side that was close to full-strength. They had previously notched a win and a loss, starting with a tight 29-22 win over Counties Manukau before losing 41-12 to Wellington.

For Waikato, their buildup has been in the form of Ranfurly Shield defences, retaining the prized shield in a canter against Thames Valley (83-13) and King Country (55-0). The holders were tested against Wanganui before they eventually got home 32-12, while they lost to premiership rivals Taranaki 12-21 in their final warm-up game.

FRESH FACES
For Tasman, it's the start of a new era under coach Leon MacDonald. The former assistant coach is stepping into the top seat for the first time to fill the large boots of Kieran Keane. Makos stalwarts Robbie Malneek, Joe Wheeler, Quentin MacDonald and Jimmy Cowan have all moved on, the time is right for new blood to have their opportunity. Ten new players have been named in the matchday squad, including promising halfback Finlay Christie. The Christchurch club rugby player will be looking to repay the favour, with Billy Guyton sitting on the bench. Other debutants include Andrew Makalio, first five-eighths Mitchell Hunt and prop Blair Prinsep. For Waikato, Second five-eighths Willis Halaholo gets his first game and will be keen to showcase the blockbusting running that saw him claim a key spot in the centres for the Hurricanes during their Super Rugby triumph over the Lions.

PLAYERS TO WATCH
A lot's been made of Finlay Christie, the Scotland-born halfback who represented New Zealand as a junior gymnast. The University halfback has beaten Makos stalwart Billy Guyton to the No.9 jersey in what will be a baptism of fire against their Premiership rivals.

Damian McKenzie will have another opportunity to showcase his superb Super Rugby form. The first five-eighths was outstanding for the Chiefs in 2016 which led to his selection in the All Blacks squad for the June series against Wales. His combination with captain Isaac Boss, the former Ireland halfback who played 23 times for Ireland. In the front row, tighthead prop Atu Moli will be hoping to carry his solid Super Rugby form with the Chiefs into the red, gold and black hoops for another season.

THE VERDICT

Waikato's electric backline could see them home in Blenheim, but a lot will depend on whether the new partnerships in midfield will gel or not. Given the greenish tint to this Tasman side, much will depend on the efforts of captain Shane Christie to carry the side. It could be a tight contest, but Waikato's level of experience should see them claim their first win of the season.

TEAMS
Tasman: 1. Tim Perry, 2. Andrew Makalio, 3. Blair Prinsep, 4. Alex Ainley, 5. Quinten Strange, 6. Pete Samu, 7. Shane Christie (captain), 8. Vernon Fredericks, 9. Finlay Christie, 10. Mitchell Hunt, 11. James Lowe, 12. Alex Nankivell, 13. Kieron Fonotia, 14. Tima Faingaanuku, 15. David Havili.

Reserves: 16. Jesse MacDonald, 17. Tom Hill, 18. Ross Geldenhuys, 19. Jeff Lepa, 20. Shannon Frizell, 21. Billy Guyton, 22. Tim O'Malley, 23. Jesse Pitman.

Waikato: 1. Latu Talakai, 2. Hame Faiva, 3. Atu Moli, 4. Jacob Skeen, 5. Brian Alainu'uese, 6. James Tucker, 7. Murray Iti, 8. Whetu Douglas, 9. Isaac Boss (captain), 10. Damian McKenzie, 11. Jordan Trainor, 12. Willis Halaholo, 13. Nathaniel Apa, 14. Penikolo Latu, 15. Shaun Stevenson.

Reserves: 16. Steven Misa, 17. Tau Koloamatangi, 18. Sefo Kautai, 19. Jordan Manihera, 20. Mitch Jacobson, 21. Harrison Levien, 22. Sam Christie, 23. Tevita Taufui.