Preview: Tasman v Counties Manukau

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Friday, October 10, 2014    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Date: October 12, 4.35pm, Lansdowne Park, Blenheim

Played: 5, Tasman won 3, Counties Manukau won 2

Squad update: Not surprisingly, given they have already achieved a home semi-final the Tasman management have opted to rest some of their key players. On the bench for this game are first five-eighths Marty Banks, halfback Jimmy Cowan, wing Bryce Heem and hooker Quentin MacDonald. Counties Manukau have named new All Blacks squad member Augustine Pulu in their side while lock Ronald Raaymakers and wing Toni Pulu come back from injury.

Form: Really, the Tasman form has been outstanding, especially given their promotion at the end of last season. It is interesting that they have gone to the top of the Premiership while demoted side Bay of Plenty has ended bottom of the Championship. If they hadn't suffered their incredible loss to Taranaki, Tasman would be sitting every prettier. But for all they have achieved, nothing could have said more about the rugby they have played than their 38-10 win over Canterbury at AMI Stadium in their last outing.

Counties Manukau have had an indifferent year but have won their last three games, with their thrashing of Auckland a special effort which would need to be repeated to upset Tasman. Always dangerous on the break, the defences will be well tested by the home team.

Tasman's recent results have been:
Round 5 – lost to Taranaki 30-31
Round 6 – beat Southland 38-14
Round 7 – beat Wellington 42-20
Round 8 – beat Otago 32-24
Round 9 – beat Canterbury 38-10

Counties Manukau's recent results have been:
Round 5 – lost to Waikato 21-26
Round 6 – lost to Canterbury 20-28
Round 7 – beat Wellington 55-7
Round 8 – beat Southland 24-10
Round 9 – beat Auckland 41-18

Key Players: In the pack Tasman will look once again to captain and lock Joe Wheeler with support from loose forwards Tevita Koloamatangi and Liam Squire especially. Ross Geldenhuys has been an impressive contributor in the front row while there is some genuine class still in the backline with Robbie Malneek at fullback, Tom Marshall at second five-eighths and James Lowe on the wing.

There should be enough firepower in the Counties Manukau pack to give Tasman a good test with the likes of props Pauliasi Manu and Jarrod Firth giving genuine grunt. Flanker Jordan Taufua has had a sound season in the loose while Dan Hyatt has also impressed. But it is the Counties Manukau backs who are the most dangerous with second five-eighths Bundee Aki, centre Ray Lee-Lo, wing Frank Halai and fullback Tim Nanai-Williams are, on their day, among the most lethal in the country.