Preview: Bay of Plenty v Southland

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Form: After defeating North Harbour in the opening round, the Steamers came back to earth with a thud as they were overcome in a heated encounter against Tasman, losing 34-13 at Trafalgar Park in Nelson during round two.

Despite some heroic defence at times, Bay of Plenty’s calm and poise left a lot to be desired, both teams were very fired up and it took all of referee Nick Briant’s control to make sure the players focused on the rugby, not frayed tempers.

In the end the Steamers showed that winning a game of rugby is difficult without possession, and while the Makos were not exemplary, they showed what a difference some game management via Marty Banks and a solid set piece can do to a result.

Southland on the other hand registered their maiden victory of the regular season with a solid triumph over Northland, following on from their 23-23 draw against Auckland in the opening round.

It was a victory that was difficult to grade considering the presence of All Blacks first five-eighth Lima Sopoaga, but once again the Stags forwards were a major factor despite the energy of the Taniwha.

While Hawke’s Bay and Wellington are setting the early pace in the ITM Cup Championship, the winner of this one will secure third spot on the table at the conclusion of this round.

Wednesday 26 August, 7.35pm at ASB Baypark Stadium, Tauranga
Played: 34, 1939-2014
Bay of Plenty wins: 19 | Southland wins: 14 | Draws: 1

Last match: Southland 34 Bay of Plenty 23, 15.08.14 in Invercargill (ITMC)
Last Bay of Plenty win: Bay of Plenty 29 Southland 17, 28.08.11 in Invercargill (ITMC)
Biggest Bay of Plenty score: 53 (53-32), 12.10.03 in Invercargill (NPC)
Biggest Southland score: 53 (53-34), 20.08.94 in Whakatane (NPC)
Biggest differential: Southland by 34 (45-11), 11.10.08 in Mt Maunganui (ANZC QF)

Squad update: The All Blacks released some of their playing squad to feature in the ITM Cup, last week it was Sopoaga’s chance, and during round three the Steamers will have the services of Test flanker Sam Cane.

Playing his 18th match for Bay of Plenty, Cane’s inclusion gives the home team’s back row a look of lethality, co-captain Carl Axtens and Johan Bardoul have clout to make the Stags breakdown task immensely more difficult.

Otherwise head coach Clayton McMillan has resisted making wholesale changes, players who looked a bit out of touch against Tasman have a chance to perform against a fellow Championship side.

The other notable change is the return of hooker Nathan Harris, giving the Steamers what looks to be their strongest forward pack of the year so far; while out wide the likes of Nick Evemy and Chase Tiatia will want to continue their promising start to the season.

Southland meanwhile have made seven changes, with two players in Liam Howley and Tauasosi Tuimavave to make their debuts for the province at halfback and left wing respectively.

Two changes are availability and injury enforced, with Ash Moeke replacing Sopoaga, while Dillan Halaholo replaces Brayden Mitchell, who has been ruled out with a rib complaint.

David Hall comes onto the bench as the replacement rake, while the credentialed Elliot Dixon makes his return, replacing Alex Taylor at blindside flanker.

The other alterations are also up front, with Guy Millar and Michael Stewart coming into the starting XV at prop and lock.

Key players: While the inclusion of Cane is a big talking point, the brilliance of the All Black in regards to his ground work will count for little if he doesn’t receive the support of his team-mates around him.

The Steamers certainly have one of the more vibrant forward packs in the competition, but they will be wary of how the Makos eventually were able to dictate terms in the set piece, and it is no surprise that Southland will present similar challenges.

Out wide Evemy, Tiatia and Tino Nemani didn’t have many opportunities last week, but the Stags have already proven they are happy to play wide ranging rugby which could play into the hands of the hosts.

Dixon may not have the international resume of Cane, but his return is no less pivotal, his back row partner Tim Boys has been one of Southland’s finest in 2015, while Josh Bekhuis and Jamie Mackintosh have been constant figures around the tight exchanges.

Moeke’s job will be a big one, stepping into the shoes of the inform Sopoaga will not be easy, especially with new number nine Howley’s inexperience – the halfback is just 19-years-young.

A major factor in this will be how centres Kieran Moffat and Willis Halaholo fare, they play with a mandate that supports running rugby, and they may feel that the Steamers defensive lines could be put under stress.