Preview: Canterbury v Counties Manukau

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Sunday, August 23, 2015    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Form: Canterbury looked every bit like an angry team that had lost a championship in 2014, their quest for an incredible seven straight trophies came to an end at the hand of Taranaki and Tasman last year.

However 2015 the side has a fierce determination about them, helped of course by the inclusion of some All Blacks, and their 38-24 bonus point success in Dunedin ensured they were top-of-the-table after the opening round.

They looked primed early to make a serious assault on the Premiership crown.

Counties meanwhile were given a stern examination by Manawatu, but they held on for the 36-35 victory thanks a strong start where Toni Pulu scored two of his three tries in the opening five minutes.

The Steelers will not be thrilled that they let the Turbos score two of their own in the last six minutes of the match, switching off late in this upcoming contest could spell disaster as Canterbury’s team for this round two ITM Cup fixture looks as strong as any in the competition.

Sunday 23 August, 4.35pm at AMI Stadium (Addington), Christchurch
Played: 35, 1960-2014
Canterbury wins: 24 | Counties Manukau wins: 10 | Draws: 1

Last match: Canterbury 28 Counties Manukau 20, 19.09.14 in Pukekohe (ITMC)
Last Counties Manukau win: Counties Manukau 49 Canterbury 42, 10.10.98 in Christchurch (NPC)
Biggest Counties Manukau score: 49 (49-42), 10.10.98 in Christchurch (NPC)
Biggest Canterbury score: 82 (82-22), 04.09.99 in Pukekohe (NPC)
Biggest differential: Canterbury by 60 (82-22), 04.09.99 in Pukekohe (NPC)

Squad update: Head Coach Scott Robertson has made three changes to the starting fifteen that beat Otago in round one, eagerly ushering back his Test stars into the match day squad.

All Blacks Joe Moody and Ryan Crotty have been released to play this week, as well as Matt Todd and Patrick Osborne who also featured in last week’s line-up.

Moody takes the number 3 jersey, which sees Siate Tokolahi move to the bench; while Crotty will play at second-five, moving Rob Thompson onto the bench. Mitchell Dunshea also moves into the starting line-up at lock.

In the reserves, hooker Ged Robinson has been a new addition to the squad after Nick Werahiko injured his calf last weekend. Lock Ben Matwijow is set to make his ITM Cup debut if he comes off the bench.

Meanwhile head coach Tana Umaga has made three changes to the starting line up.

Sikeli Nabou takes over locking duties from fellow Fijian, Viliame Rarasea. Loose forward Jordan Taufua returns to his Investec Super Rugby home ground and is joined by Dan Hyatt who starts at No 8.

Prop Sam Aiono comes into the reserves with Maama Vaipulu and Sam Henwood who will provide impact from the bench.

Key players: It is difficult to assess Canterbury’s squad at this stage of the season, key contributors have been All Blacks and if they are called away by Steve Hansen in the next week it will make a difference to the potency of the playing roster.

Matt Todd and Pat Osborne have been vital, and the return of Ryan Crotty and Joe Moody only further strengthens a side that has threats from one to 15.

Richie Mo’unga and Ben Funnell have been strong supporting cast members, while Luke Whitelock was a tower at eight last week, his efforts against a physical Steelers back row will be vital.

Visiting captain Jimmy Tupou and his partners in the loose forwards Jordan Taufua and Dan Hyatt will be tasked with stopping Canterbury’s momentum at the breakdown, Otago had few answers against this facet of the red and blacks game last weekend.

Piers Francis will guide the Counties backline, while Cardiff Vaega and last week’s hat-trick hero Toni Pulu looked sharp against the Turbos, but their ability to find space will be tested by one of the best defensive structures in the ITM Cup.