Air New Zealand Cup - Round Four Preview
Bay of Plenty look to cement lead
August 20, 2009
Stephen Brett will start at fly-half for Canterbury with Dan Carter on All Blacks duty © Getty Images
The Air New Zealand Cup reaches round four this week with pacesetters Bay of Plenty and Canterbury looking to strengthen their grip at the top of the table.
The action continues with two games on Friday night with North Harbour playing host to Northland in Albany while over at Rugby Park Stadium in Invercargill, Southland welcome Hawke's Bay.
Both Northland and North Harbour will be looking to kick-start their campaigns as they already find themselves languishing at the wrong end of the table.
North Harbour's coach Craig Dowd has been forced to replace star centre Luke McAllister, who's linked up with the All Blacks, with his place is taken by Rudi Wulf who returns after a variety of injury setbacks. The side is led by winger Anthony Tuitavake.
Northland, currently languishing in 11th place, have shuffled their run-on side but retained the same squad that went down 32-12 to Auckland last week. Fullback Jared Payne is named as captain while the dangerous Rene Ranger starts on the left wing.
Over in Invercargill the main injury news is that Matt Saunders is out of for the Southland Stags' side while Thomas Waldrom, the hugely influential Hawke's Bay No.8 also misses out through injury.
Hawke's Bay luckily staved off defeat last week to Taranaki, eking out a draw to retain their spot mid-table, while Southland went down to Manawatu by two points and are currently fifth in the table.
Bay of Plenty will be confident of consolidating top spot when Waikato travel to Mount Manganui on Saturday. Kevin O'Neill and Nathan White return to bolster the Waikato starting line-up - O'Neill combines with Romana Graham at lock while tight-head White starts alongside hooker Ole Avei and loosehead Hikairo Forbes in the front row.
In the loose trio, Jack Lam shifts to No.8, captain Liam Messam starts on the blindside and Matt Blain from Waikato's development team comes in as openside flanker. Among the backs, David Bason will start at scrum-half, replacing All Black Brendon Leonard, while Save Tokula starts at centre in the place of Roimata Hansell-Pune.
The Mooloo men were humbled by the 'Dan Carter show' last week in a crushing defeat to Canterbury and are currently second bottom of the table while the Steamers have will be confident of securing their fourth successive victory.
Canterbury have been hit with call-ups to the All Blacks with Wyatt Crockett, Kieran Read and Dan Carter amongst those missing for the Cantabrians ahead of their game against Tasman. There is good news with the return of hooker Corey Flynn and scrum-half Andy Ellis - both having recovered from long-term injuries to claim a spot on the bench.
New signing from Wellington, Tu Umaga-Marshall, finally makes his Canterbury debut as a replacement for James Paterson, after recovering from a back injury.
In the other changes to the team that beat Waikato 46-13 last week, Andrew Olorenshaw replaces Crockett in the front row and Luke Romano comes in for Sam Whitelock in the second row. Elsehwhere, Mike Coman fills the void at No.8 left by Read and Brett slots in at fly-half in the absence of Carter. Tim Bateman and Adam Whitelock form a new-look centre pairing.
Tasman have stuck with virtually the same squad that beat Counties-Manakau last week, with Glen Gregory the only casualty as he drops out of the 22.
Wellington play host to Auckland on Saturday in a fixture that will double as a Ranfurly Shield challenge match.
Wellington's ranks have been bolstered by the inclusion of Neemia Tialata who has a spot on the bench. The side is captained by Jacob Ellison while Hosea Gear starts in the No. 10 jersey where he forms a half-back partnership with Alby Mathewson.
For Auckland, Benson Stanley captains the side from inside centre, where he's partnered by namesake, Winston in the midfield. Isaia Toeava is in the No.15 jersey and will be looking to inject his pace and provide a potent force on attack.
And in the final game of the round Counties Manakau will be looking to haul themselves off the bottom of the table when they take on Taranaki at Pukekohe on Sunday. Team news for that one is yet to be released.