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Preview: Auckland v Canterbury

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Friday, August 28, 2015    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

It is one of the signature clashes in any domestic season and with international players scattered through both sides there is every reason to expect a close contest.

Form: Occupying second and third places on the ladder, Auckland two points down due to their first round draw with Southland, these two long standing rivals should produce a thriller.

So far in the competition they haven't produced their finest touches which is understandable given it is early days but it is about time for the better quality to start to emerge. Auckland has shown, as ever, that it has some powerful backs who are capable of testing most defences.

The choice of Rieko Ioane at centre outside George Moala will be followed with interest and the Canterbury midfield of internationals Tom Taylor and Ryan Crotty can expect to have their hands full.

Up front, it is another unknown with experience shared by both sides but Canterbury look to have the edge in the loose.

Played: 96
Wins: Auckland 47, Canterbury 44, Drawn 5
Last match: Auckland 9, Canterbury 48, Christchurch 2014

Squad Update: All Blacks contender prop Charlie Faumuina has recovered from concussion suffered at training and will provide welcome experience for Auckland while wing Charles Piutau has another chance to push his case for World Cup selection when playing on the left wing.

As a result of injury to Vince Aso, teenage flyer Rieko Ioane has been moved to centre which has allowed Bryce Heem to come back onto the right wing.

In the pack Michael Fatialofa and Liaki Moli will be paired in the locks. Making his starting debut at halfback is Kaito Shigeno.

Canterbury have two changes from the side which beat Counties Manukau. Jack Goodhue suffered a knee injury which has allowed Cameron McIntyre to play at fullback with Tom Taylor and Ryan Crotty changing positions to second five-eighths and centre respectively.

JJ Manning is on the bench in place of Tom Sanders who suffered a head knock last week.

Teams:

Auckland: 1.Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 2.Greg Pleasants-Tate, 3.Charlie Faumuina, 4.Michael Fatialofa, 5.Liaki Moli, 6.Joe Edwards, 7.Mitch Karpik, 8.Akira Ioane, 9.Kaito Shigeno, 10.Simon Hickey (captain), 11.Charles Piutau, 12.George Moala, 13.Rieko Ioane, 14.Bryce Heem, 15.Lolagi Visinia.

Reserves: 16.Kurt Eklund, 17.Sam Prattley, 18.Jono Owen, 19.Scott Scrafton, 20.Airi Hunt, 21.Jono Hickey, 22.Mitch Hunt, 23.Melani Nanai.

Canterbury: 1.Daniel Lienert-Brown, 2.Ben Funnell, 3.Joe Moody, 4.Mitchell Dunshea, 5.Dominic Bird, 6.Reed Prinsep, 7.Matt Todd, 8.Luke Whitelock (captain), 9.Mitchell Drummond, 10.Richie Mo'unga, 11.Patrick Osborne, 12.Tom Taylor, 13.Ryan Crotty, 14.Johnny McNicholl, 15.Cameron McIntyre.

Reserves: 16.Ged Robinson, 17.Alex Hodgman, 18.Siate Tokolahi, 19.Ben Matwijow, 20.JJ Manning, 21.Jack Stratton, 22.Rob Thompson, 23.Marshall Suckling.

Key Players: It would be too much to expect Charlie Faumuina to have maximum impact in the tight, especially given he is likely to only be available for the first half. But locks Michael Fatialofa and Liaki Moli should provide some quality ball from the lineouts, and their support play could be important in tying up Canterbury's ability in the loose.

Captain Simon Hickey will need to be pinpoint in his kicking accuracy to deny Canterbury their ability to build up sustained phases.

Flanker Matt Todd will be looking to give Canterbury dominance in the loose exchanges with skipper and No.8 Luke Whitelock vital in support.

Canterbury lacked directness in their attack against Counties Manukau and it will be up to Taylor and Crotty to provide this to put the Auckland defences to the test.