ITM Cup - Round 4 Preview
Southland out to cement top spot
August 17, 2010
Southland's Robbie Robinson slots a kick, Southland v Counties Manukau, ITM Cup, Rugby Park Stadium, Invercargill, New Zealand, August 14, 2010
Southland's Robbie Robinson will be hoping to steer his side to their fourth successive victory against Hawke's Bay on Sunday © Getty Images

This season's ITM Cup reaches round four this week with Southland out to preserve their place at the top of the table.

The Stags currently lead the chase for the New Zealand provincial crown thanks to three successive victories most recently against Counties Manukau in a Ranfurly Shield clash last weekend. And they will be confident of cementing their position as they travel to McLean Park in Napier to tackle Hawke's Bay on Sunday.

Canterbury are the only other undefeated side in the competition but a crushing victory over North Harbour last time out will ensure they are firm favourites against Tasman at Trafalgar Park in Nelson on Saturday.

Northland have been racking up the tries in recent weeks - running in 10 against a hapless Manawatu in their last outing - but may not find the going as easy against Auckland at Eden Park on Sunday.

Taranaki will target their third win in a row when they play host to Bay of Plenty at Yarrow Stadium in New Plymouth on Friday but they face a side desperate to bounce back from a narrow defeat to Auckland.

The latest action kicks off on Thursday night with North Harbour playing host to Otago at North Shore City with the hosts looking to return to winning ways after their mauling in Christchurch. Basement side Otago are yet to get off the mark this season with Wellington the latest side to heap woe on them last Saturday.

Otago have made two changes to their starting team for the game with Liam Coltman replacing Peter Merrielees at hooker, while a leg injury has forced winger Ryan Shortland out and he is replaced by Joe Hill. North Harbour coach Craig Dowd has made two changes to his starting 15 that see Malakai Ravulo start at openside flanker in place of Tom Chamberlain, who moves to the reserves bench, while Ben Botica replaces Michael Harris in the No.10 jersey.

The Lions will be hoping to kick on from that victory and keep pace with the league leaders when they entertain Waikato at the Westpac Stadium who fell to a damaging home defeat to Taranaki last weekend.

The weekend's other game sees Counties Manukau and Manawatu set to go head-to-head at the Growers Stadium in Pukekohe on Saturday.


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