Preview: Hawke’s Bay v Northland

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Friday, October 17, 2014    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Friday 17 October, 7.35pm at McLean Park, Napier
Played: 32, 1929-2014
Hawke’s Bay wins: 11 | Northland wins: 20 | Draws: 1

Squad update: Hawke’s Bay, who locked up the Ranfurly Shield for the summer with a 20-20 draw against Southland, have made no changes for the first final’s match of the 2014 ITM Cup.

The only alteration to the Magpies match day squad is on the bench, with Havelock North Fijian winger Mikey Vuikakau replacing Tom Stanley.

Winston Stanley is the solitary change for the Taniwha out wide, replacing Brook Gilmore at centre.

In the pack Matt Moulds comes into the front row in what is the only other difference in the starting team, with Northland coach Derren Witcombe preparing for what is his first ITM Cup knockout match.

Form: Hawke’s Bay looked like the Shield might be leaving them at the last minute, but a drop goal from first five-eighth Ihaia West not only secured the famous trophy but earned the Magpies a crucial home Championship final.

With five wins from their ten regular season matches, the hosts have been successful only once in their last four fixtures so will look for a turnaround if they are to seek promotion to the Premiership.

The Taniwha might have lost to Auckland in their most last regular season match but looked willing, allowing them to close down third spot on the table, and the 38-10 loss to the blue and whites was their first reverse in three games.

There have been just seven points between the two teams in their last two meetings in what promises to be a high octane affair, the two unions are tied as the most potent try scoring outfits in the Championship with 22 tries scored in 2014.

Last match: Northland 23 Hawke’s Bay 21, 05.09.14 in Whangarei (ITMC)

Last Hawke’s Bay win: Hawke’s Bay 31 Northland 26, 15.09.13 in Napier (ITMC)

Biggest Hawke’s Bay score: 41 (41–22), 13.08.94 in Napier (NPC)

Biggest Northland score: 66 (66–12), 01.11.03 in Napier (NPC PR)

Biggest differential: Northland by 54 (66–12), 01.11.03 in Napier (NPC PR)

Key players: While West has emerged as one of the heroes of the Magpies campaign, he has been well supported in what has become one of the most lethal back divisions in the ITM Cup.

Shannan Chase is now well known to the local supporters, Robbie Fruean has won fans with his barnstorming runs, while Ryan Tongia and Richard Buckman have been in lethal touch out wide.

However up front the Magpies pack will be on high alert against a Taniwha pack that prides itself on its work in general quarters, so key home forwards Brendan O’Connor and Ash Dixon will want big performances.

Northlands’s back row of Dan and Kara Pryor and Jack Ram could hold the key to this match, although the set piece will be an intriguing battle as neither pack has been able dominate opposition regularly this season.

Dan Hawkins battle with West will be notable, as will the performance of Tane Takulua against wily Hawke’s Bay halfback Chris Eaton, while Stanley’s inclusion to the starting team is no doubt to strengthen up the visiting union's defensive portfolio.