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Preview: Canterbury v Waikato

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Tuesday, September 22, 2015    ITMCup.co.nz    Getty Images

All eyes will be on their first hefty assignment, traveling to Christchurch to tackle an unbeaten Canterbury eyeing a perfect season. As for the hosts, Scott Robertson will have a wary eye on his inexperienced pack that has been assembled with the three-day turnover from Sunday's 27-20 win over North Harbour in mind.

Form: Six wins from as many matches illustrates a perfect season so far on paper for Canterbury. They started with a fairly comprehensive 38-24 away win over Otago, and followed that up with tight wins over Counties Manukau (20-15) and Auckland (27-21). Two comfortable wins followed (57-7 v Manawatu; 29-14 v Hawke's Bay) before Sunday's seven-point win over North Harbour. Canterbury average four tries a game, but are in the lower half of the ITM Cup sides on lineout success (84.8 percent) and scrummaging success (90 percent). Robertson's untested lineup could see Waikato licking their lips for opportunities at their set piece.

Waikato's form, however, has been patchy at best. A 20-35 loss to Tasman was followed by a seven-point win over Manawatu the following week. They picked up a hefty 43-10 win over Bay of Plenty, but followed that up with a big loss to Auckland (28-50). A tight 30-25 win over Southland looked to have got Waikato back on track only for defending champions Taranaki to inflict an historic 0-41 defeat on the Mooloo men. Tries have been hard to come by for the Waikato men, with just 17 from six matches. Their tackle success rate of 84.4 percent, however, puts them in the top five of the competition. They can defend,, and they'll need to do so in bucketloads against Canterbury on Wednesday.

Played: 49
Wins: Waikato 18, Canterbury 30, Draws: 1
Last time: Waikato 27-58 Canterbury, Hamilton 2014

Teams:
CANTERBURY: 1.Alex Hodgman, 2.Ged Robinson, 3.Siate Tokolahi, 4.Ben Matwijow, 5.JJ Manning, 6.Reed Prinsep, 7.Jed Brown, 8.Tom Sanders, 9.Jack Stratton, 10.Cameron McIntyre, 11.Milford Keresoma, 12.Nathaniel Apa, 13.Ryan Crotty, 14.Tulolo Tulolo, 15.Tom Taylor (captain).

Reserves: 16.Ben Funnell, 17.Sione Faletau, 18.Joe Moody, 19.Mitchell Dunshea, 20.Matt Todd, 21.Mitchell Drummond, 22.Rob Thompson, 23.Johnny McNicholl.

WAIKATO: 1.Josh Hohneck, 2.Hame Faiva, 3.Ben Tameifuna, 4.Jacob Skeen, 5.David Morgan, 6.Whetu Douglas (captain), 7.Mitch Jacobson, 8.Adam Burn, 9.Brad Weber (co-captain), 10.Damian McKenzie, 11.Dylan Collier, 12.Jordan Payne, 13.Anton Lienert-Brown, 14.Regan Ware, 15.Shaun Stevenson.

Reserves: 16.Tyrone Te Ruruku, 17.Tau Koloamatagi, 18.Atu Moli, 19.Josh Tyrell, 20.Murray Iti, 21.Harrison Levien, 22.Wharenui Hawera, 23.Chauncy Edwardson.

Squad Update: Tom Taylor gets the Canterbury captaincy for the first time in what is a special moment for the departing utility. He lines up at fullback to allow for the inclusion of Cameron McIntyre at first five-eighths. The 34-year-old gets his first shot in the No.10 jersey this season and will have Nathaniel Apa outside him, with Rob Thompson resting on the bench.

Damian McKenzie shifts back to first five-eighths after a failed experiment at fullback. He replaces Stephen Donald, who picked up a small hamstring tear and will be out of action for two to three weeks. Prop Loni Uhila has been suspended for three weeks for striking, while lock James Tucker is also unavailable with judicial issues. There has been some good news, however, with co-captain Brad Weber returning from a stomach bug to take his place at halfback.

Key Players: Despite a green-looking red and black side, there are a number of exciting options still available to Robertson. Jed Brown gets a rare opportunity to impress with tackle factory Matt Todd moved to the bench. Chiefs prop Siate Tokolahi also gets a start for the red and blacks. With all of the inexperience surrounding the makeshift lineup, the likes of Ryan Crotty and Taylor must lead from the front and demonstrate composure against a Waikato side likely to be fired up and pushing for every opportunity given the stakes of their season.

For Waikato, expect McKenzie to exploit a number of holes that come with fielding an inexperienced combination. His vision will be crucial to Waikato's tryscoring chances. With his able lieutenant Weber providing quality ball, and scoring four tries of his own so far this season, this halfback-first five-eighths pairing could prove the difference for the visitors. Ben Tameifuna is always a handful regardless of the level he plays at, and his battle with 22-year-old Alex Hodgman will be one to watch in the front row.