Preview: Hawke’s Bay v Northland

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Friday, August 14, 2015    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Form: Three successful defences, against Wairarapa Bush, Horowhenua Kapiti and 2014 Meads Cup winners, Mid Canterbury, has the Magpies rearing to go ahead of the 2015 regular season.

However while they hold the Log o’Wood for now, they will also be aware that they played second fiddle to Manawatu during the Championship last year, and if they are to gain promotion to the top division they will need to make a series of statements throughout the season.

Starting against Northland, who finished only three competition points behind the Magpies last campaign.

The Taniwha during 2014 ITM Cup rugby were a dangerous lot, they finished sixth in the Championship in 2013, but grew last season to finish third overall behind Shield holders Hawke’s Bay and title winners Manawatu.

But 2014 was a special year despite the absence of any superstars, it was the Taniwha’s best ITM Cup season in 17 years while a record seven past or present Northland players were rewarded this year with Investec Super Rugby contracts.

With two preseason matches under their belt, against a Northland development side and Waikato, the team has a strong playing roster to build on their solid 2014 season.

Sunday 16 August, 4.35pm at McLean Park Napier (RS)
Played: 33, 1929-2014
Hawke's Bay wins: 12 | Northland wins: 20 | Draws: 1

Last match: Hawke's Bay 26 Northland 21, 17.10.14 in Napier (ITMC C SF)
Last Northland win: Northland 23 Hawke's Bay 21, 05.09.14 in Whangarei (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)

Squad update: Hawke’s Bay have rolled out a near full strength team for this one, in the starting XV only prop Jarvy Aoake, blindside flanker Tony Lamborn and left wing Shannan Chase haven’t played Investec Super Rugby.

This is in stark contrast to a Northland side that will have several players making their first class debuts in the cauldron of a Ranfurly Shield contest.

The Magpies are in good touch, not only have they won three Shield challenges against Heartland opponents to give the bulk of their squad valuable playing time, but they also defeated Premiership champions Taranaki 28-24 to fine tune preparations.

For the tourists, they have many playing their first ever ITM Cup match proper.

New Zealand Under-20s world champion lock Josh Goodhue, Hikurangi tighthead prop Dominic Robertson-McCoy, former Auckland and Bay of Plenty centre Dave Thomas, former New Zealand Under-20 rep and Canterbury age group number eight Taniela Manu, Mid Northern winger Waisea Lawbuka and Otamatea second five-eighth Jordan Hyland are the rookies in the starting XV.

Lock Sean Sweetman and halfback Sam Nock, a new Blues recruit, will come off the pine.

Hawke’s Bay team: Zac Guildford, Ryan Tongia, Richard Buckman, Andrew Horrell, Shannan Chase, Ihaia West, Chris Eaton, Gareth Evans, Brendon O’Connor, Tony Lamborn, Mark Abbott, Michael Allardice, Jarvy Aoake, Ash Dixon, Brendon Edmonds.

Reserves: Ricky Riccitelli, Jason Long, Mark Braidwood, Trent Boswell-Wakefield, Tom Stanley, Ellery Wilson, Billy Ropiha, Lewis Marshall.

Northland team: Howard Sililoto, Matt Moulds, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Josh Goodhue, Michael Stolberg, Shane Neville, Kara Pryor, Taniela Manu, Kurt Davies, Dan Hawkins, Jone Macilai, Jordan Hyland, Dave Thomas, Waisea Lawebuka, Mathew Wright.

Reserves: Jordan Olsen, Ross Wright, Matt Talaese, Sean Sweetman, Jaycob Matiu, Sam Nock, Troy Gilbert, Filipo Nakosi.

Key players: The hosts on paper look well beyond Northland, which either firms up their chances or paints this contest out to be a real danger match for the Shield holders.

Gareth Evans and Brendon O’Connor provide poise in the back row, while the tight five looks to be one of the more formidable in the ITM Cup Championship – Mark Abbott, Michael Allardice and Ash Dixon will not take a backward step.

The backline looks gorgeous, Chris Eaton’s experience is partnered with Ihaia West’s razzle dazzle, Chase’s pace will go along with Tongia’s growing promise, while the midfield of Andrew Horrell from the Chiefs and Super Rugby winner Richard Buckman will defensively be very hard to crack.

Despite the inexperience of Northland from an ITM Cup perspective, Kara Pryor, Dan Hawkins and Waisea Lawebuka provide enough muscle to give the Taniwha a good chance at the set piece exchanges.

There is plenty of unknown qualities about the tourists backline, but if the likes of Goodhue and Matt Moulds find space they could test the Ranfurly Shield holders out wide.