Preview: Waikato v Bay of Plenty

Getty Images

Wednesday, October 8, 2014    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Thursday, October 8, 7.35pm, Waikato Stadium, Hamilton. Played 79: Waikato 50, Bay of Plenty 25, Drawn 4

Squad news: Prop Ben Tameifuna is back from his five-match suspension while Joe Webber will be on Sevens duty with the All Blacks Sevens on the Gold Coast. However, his place has been filled by Declan O'Donnell who is returning from injury. There is also a bracket on the bench where hooker Brayden Mitchell may be available if recovered from injury. Bay of Plenty are operating at close to full strength after their recent win over Otago although David Whitecliffe-Davies has been bracketed with Jesse Acton in the forward reserves.

Form: Waikato have had a disappointing year in spite of all the promise in their side. However, that should be of benefit in the future and in the immediate consideration is the fact that while Waikato cannot improve their place in the Premiership, Bay of Plenty come into the game with an outside chance of making the Championship play-offs. That gives them a powerful incentive to attempt to finish the season on a high night. In their last five games Waikato have beaten only Counties Manukau 26-21 with losses to Tasman, Otago, Manawatu and Auckland – the last a horrific 19-60 defeat.
Bay of Plenty, by comparison, have beaten North Harbour 21-14 and Otago 33-16, both games at home, while losing to Auckland, Hawke's Bay and Northland.

Key Players:

Prop Ben Tameifuna has a lot of time to make up since being placed on suspension and the game is a great chance for him to left off some pent-up frustration. First five-eighths Damian McKenzie has been a constant thorn for all opponents this year and hasn't always enjoyed the greatest reward for his option-taking. Second five-eighths Anton Lienert-Brown has been another ti impress and Bay of Plenty can expect plenty of attention in the mid-fielod. Bay of Plenty lock Tim Bond has been making his mark felt this season in the tight exchanges while No.8 Carl Axtens has continued to impress. There was a welcome demonstration of the growing maturity between halfback Te Aihe Toma and first five-eighths Dan Hollinshead in the win over Otago. Wing Leroy van Dam is another who will need to be watched.