Preview: Bay of Plenty v Otago

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Saturday, October 4, 2014    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Saturday 4 October, 5.35pm at ASB Baypark Stadium, Tauranga
Played: 33, 1938-2013
Bay of Plenty wins: 11 | Otago wins: 22

Squad update: There are just two changes to the Steamers team that came so close to defeating an impressive Northland outfit last round, both in the backline.

Leroy van Dam and Jono Kitto come into the team at right wing and halfback, replacing Junior Va’a Tofa and Sami Fisilau.

The Bay of Plenty pack, quite possibly the hardest working and most under rated forward unit in the ITM Cup, remains unchanged.

Otago has made three changes to their pack, with Scott Manson replacing Donald Brighouse in the front row, while the loose forward trio is changed with James Lentjes and TJ Ioane back in the starting side.

Out wide Jayden Spence moves from the midfield on the right wing, while Teihorangi Walden comes into the midfield and Trent Renata replaces Tony Ensor at fullback.

Form: With North Harbour losing earlier in the round, the one side that Bay of Plenty have defeated in 2014, a bonus point victory for the Steamers would allow them to move off the bottom of the ITM Cup Championship table.

While the rivalry is in Otago’s favour, with the blue and golds boasting double the wins, Bay of Plenty pushed them hard in Dunedin last year and defeated them 31-19 in Rotorua in 2012.

Otago backed up their 38-7 thumping of Premiership outfit Waikato with a proud 32-24 loss to Tasman, results that confirmed the evolution of the union from the Deep South.

Yet if Tony Brown’s team is to threaten for a semi-final berth, they will need victory with the Championship top three boasting a five competition point lead over Otago, who sit fourth but could lose this position with a defeat away from home.

Last match: Otago 32 Bay of Plenty 29, 18.08.13 in Dunedin (ITMC)

Last Bay of Plenty win: Bay of Plenty 31 Otago 19, 30.08.12 in Rotorua (ITMC)

Biggest Bay of Plenty score: 44 (44-16), 11.09.04 in Mt Maunganui (NPC)

Biggest Otago score: 62 (62-15), 07.10.01 in Dunedin (NPC)

Biggest differential: Otago by 47 (62-15), 07.10.01 in Dunedin (NPC)

Key players: The Steamers have punched above their weight all season, and while the squad may not boast any international names, the likes of Hamish Gosling, Tim Bond and Joe Royal have become part of household conversation throughout the Bay.

Dan Hollinshead has been consistent out wide, but Nic Evemy has been one of the major contributors from centre and will need to be on his game against an Otago team that play an attractive brand of attacking rugby.

For the tourists, Liam Coltman has had a strong season which has kept him on the All Blacks radar, but the restoration of what looks to be the blue and gold’s first choice back row, with Lentjes and Ioane joining Charlie O’Connell, will be crucial if Otago is to produce the desired quick ball.

Hayden Park and Nick Ealey parter in the halves while Walden’s inclusion will add plenty of sparkle in what promises to be an open contest.