Preview: Northland v Southland

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Friday, August 21, 2015    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Form: There is no easy way to state it, but Northland were comprehensively outplayed by Hawke’s Bay in what was the most severe reverse of the opening weekend.

Taniwha coaches Richie Harris and Dale MacLeod would have been happy with their teams lineout, they put the Magpies under pressure in this facet, but other areas of the set piece were viciously exposed – Hawke’s Bay ruled the scrum contest and were better around the park for loose ball.

Southland will be pretty confident coming into this game, they looked as if they were going to win their first game of the season when leading Auckland late in the contest, before a George Moala converted try allowed the blue and whites to depart Invercargill with a 23-23 draw.

With their set piece in rude health, the Stags of course have been bolstered by the return of Lima Sopoaga. If the All Blacks first five-eighth adds a bit of tactical embellishment to what was a stoic Southland effort last weekend then the team will be confident of an away scalp.

Saturday 22 August, 5.35pm at Toll Stadium, Whangarei
Played: 35, 1947-2014
Northland wins: 18 | Southland wins: 17

Last match: Southland 36 Northland 34, 13.09.14 in Invercargill (ITMC)
Last Northland win: Northland 13 Southland 9 24.08.13 in Whangarei (ITMC)
Biggest Southland score: 54 (54-26), 28.08.04 in Invercargill (NPC)
Biggest Northland score: 48 (48-12), 13.10.01 in Whangarei (NPC)
Biggest differential: Northland by 36 (48-12), 13.10.01 in Whangarei (NPC)

Squad update: Northland have made three changes for the side, with two of those coming in the backline as the hosts look for stability.

Halfback Sam Nock will start as will last week’s try scorer Troy Gilbert, who start at second five-eighth.

Up front the only change is at prop, as Namatahi Waa comes into the team to replace Dominic Robertson-McCoy, with Waa easing his way back into the squad via the Northland Development side last weekend.

Southland coach Brad Mooar has resisted any widespread changes as the Stags enter their toughest period of the campaign, playing three matches over an eight day stretch.

Sopoaga is the only alteration, coming into the team replacing Ash Moeke, which results in reserve playmaker Sean Conner dropping out of the match day 23.

Key players: If Northland are to make up for last weekend’s loss then it will, as the great cliché dictates, all begin up front.

The forwards are better on paper than we saw against the Magpies during the opening round, expect Matt Moulds to have put his troops on notice, they cannot afford lapses against a solid Southland set piece, especially with the class of Sopoaga lurking.

Josh Goodhue was one of the better performers last week leading a potent lineout, but the real focus will be on the groundwork, Shane Neville, Kara Pryor and Taniela Manu will need to up their performances to provide quality ball to their halves combination of Nock and Dan Hawkins.

Southland’s tight five were the heroes last week, many expected their pack to struggle against Auckland but this was not the case, captain Jamie MacKintosh was powerful in the scrum alongside the Mitchell brothers (Brayden and Morgan) while Josh Bekhuis put in his usual workhorse performance.

Sopoaga’s inclusion is all jolly well and good, but Keanu Kahukura and Lolo Loco will need to move in from their wings looking for more ball if the Stags are to fire for the 80 minutes – their backline was unable to make an impact in the dying stages of the contest against Auckland.