Counties at full strength for Ranfurly Shield defence
ESPN Staff
October 9, 2013
Fritz Lee of Counties holds up the Ranfurly Shield, Counties Manukau v Waikato, ITM Cup, Ecolight Stadium, Pukekohe, September 21, 2013
Tana Umaga's side will be ready to lift the Ranfurly Shield on Friday © Getty Images

Counties Manukau will be restored to full strength for Friday's final Ranfurly Shield defence against Southland in Pukekohe. A number of Tana Umaga's stars are set to return after taking a week off to refuel for the business end of the season.

With a semifinal spot already confirmed, a severely weakened Steelers side was sent to face Canterbury last Sunday as the likes of Frank Halai, Hika Elliot and Baden Kerr rested their tired legs. They fell 38-23, but it was a small price to pay for what Umaga hopes to achieve in the coming weeks.

So far the scheme has worked. Both of Halai's sprained ankles have healed while Kerr's bruised thigh may no longer require the heavy strapping used since he rushed back to face Hawke's Bay last month. A few others have complained about minor niggles but are expected to be 100 per cent for Friday's captain's run.

Umaga hopes the break has left those rested itching to get back on the field as Counties look to retain the shield over the summer in its first year as holders. "We've got nothing to get complacent about. We've still got things to achieve and we'll just make sure that we'll go about our business the best way we know how," Umaga said. "Hopefully that caters to that and these guys realise they've still got to play and don't get too far ahead of themselves."

Southland hardly sent out a warning when they fell 23-15 against Hawke's Bay in front of their home crowd. However, Umaga remembers the determination his men showed when they grabbed the Ranfurly Shield after losing to Auckland two days prior.

"They [Southland] probably didn't play their best game but we know what the shield can do to teams. We know that they'll come here with a lot of intent and I know they'll back themselves against us," he said. "This game means a lot to Southland. They'll also want to win this game to secure their place in the top four and obviously they can win the shield if they get the result up here."

Umaga said he has been impressed by the additions David Henderson has made to Southland's style of play, which has produced two four-try bonus points this season. "In Willis Halaholo and Cardiff Vaega they've got some penetrative backs and with someone like young [Marty] Mckenzie at first-five, he likes taking on the line," Umaga added. "They've got a pretty good backline now and they've shown that they can score a few tries."

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