Preview: Otago v Hawke's Bay

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Friday, August 21, 2015    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Form: Last weekend Otago turned up to play against Canterbury but the former champions hit the ground running, the blue and golds did some little things well but the red and black machine was imperious and took the honours 38-24.

Rugby for all of its complications is a game about basics, and this is an area where the hosts will want to improve dramatically. 

Their mistakes could be summed up by looking at the opening minute against Canterbury, where a misjudged kick off and an offside call led to a penalty chance against Otago with barely 30 seconds on the clock.

It isn’t all bad, the blue and golds still managed to score points against a good defence and some of the attacking plays and rolling mauls they had to fight against will ensure they are well prepared for Hawke’s Bay potential onslaught.

The Ranfurly Shield holders were brilliant, taking apart Northland’s challenge for the Log o’Wood last weekend with a 29-point victory, but if the Magpies are to challenge for a title they need consistency.

Winning just four regular season away games in three campaigns, head coach Craig Philpott knows that if his team perform to potential they will be difficult to stop, their attacking systems are in good touch while their work at the breakdown during the opening round was first class.

Saturday 22 August, 7.35pm at Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Played: 54, 1887-2014
Hawke's Bay wins: 20 | Otago wins: 33 | Draws: 1

Last match: Hawke's Bay 41 Otago 0, 14.09.14 in Napier (ITMC)
Last Otago win: Otago 17 Hawke's Bay 16, 05.09.10 in Dunedin (ITMC)
Biggest Hawke's Bay score: 41 (41-0), 14.09.14 in Napier (ITMC)
Biggest Otago score: 60 (60-21), 28.07.89 in Napier (NPC)
Biggest differential: Hawke's Bay by 41, 14.09.14 in Napier (ITMC)

Squad update: Otago have made three changes for this match, all of them forced by injuries, but otherwise head coach Cory Brown has decided to give those who tried valiantly against Canterbury another chance.

Regular wingman Matt Faddes move to outside centre after Jayden Spence rolled his ankle at training, resulting in custodian Tony Ensor moving to the right wing while Peter Breen comes into the starting XV at fullback.

Up front flank James Lentjies had to leave the field after taking a heavy knock last weekend, so Theo Commissaris comes into the team and will make his debut.

Blair Tweed will also make his first class introduction at lock, after Jackson Hemopo picked up a knee injury during round one against Canterbury.

The tourists are boosted by the inclusion of All Blacks fullback Israel Dagg, one of multiple changes to the team that accounted for the Taniwha.

Ellery Wilson, Jorian Tangaere, Tolu Fahamokioa and Tom Stanley come into the starting XV, replacing Chris Eaton, Ricky Riccitelli, Jason Long and Brendon O’Connor respectively.

Captain O’Connor replaces number eight Gareth Evans, moving from the openside to take his position at the back of the scrum, while Zac Guildford will take over on the left wing from Shannan Chase

Key players: This is a new and young looking Otago team and they will receive another rugby lesson this weekend from a Hawke’s Bay side dripping with experience if they are not careful.

Liam Coltman again captains the team but with two debutants in the pack via Commissaris and Tweed the hosts will not look to do anything to fancy up front.

Canterbury’s forwards were too strong for their southern rivals but if Otago’s more experienced guard, think Adam Knight and Craig Millar, can bolster the set piece it will be a good start.

This could allow exciting players like Kaide Whiting and Tony Ensor to find space out wide.

The Magpies look very formidable on paper, the return of Dagg gives them firepower across the backline. 

Ihaia West and Ryan Tongia provide the sparkle, while Richard Buckman and Andrew Horrell provide a defensive wall that makes a mockery of their smaller frames (compared to some midfielders these days).

Ash Dixon will relish his contest with his old mate Coltman, but the unlike the Otago skipper, the Hawke’s Bay rake has experience all around him and proven hard heads.

Brendon Edmonds and Tony Lamborn will fancy their chances against a green horn Razorbacks pack, and if the Magpies big men lay a similar platform we saw last week then expect a point’s glut at Forsyth Barr.