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PREVIEW: Auckland v Counties Manukau

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Friday, September 16, 2016    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Form: Auckland have won three from five starts this season having lost their opener 3-43 to Canterbury and going down to Waikato 32-35, at home, in their last outing. But they have had wins over Northland (37-15), Southland (51-16) and Hawke's Bay (25-24) which is hardly the most impressive record. But Counties Manukau have fared even worse, not helped by their two last-gasp losses in the last two games. Wellington beat then with an injury-time penalty goal 28-27 while Counties Manukau missed their own injury-time goal to lose to Taranaki 29-30. Earlier they had lost to North Harbour 17-20 while they beat Bay of Plenty (39-34) and Hawke's Bay (48-20).

Played: 58

Wins: Auckland 45, Counties 12, Drawn 1

Last match: Counties Manukau 16 Auckland 31, Pukekohe 2015

Teams:

Auckland: 1.Tom McHugh, 2.Greg Pleasants-Tate, 3.Marcel Renata, 4.Michael Fatialofa, 5.Scott Scrafton, 6.Taleni Seu, 7.Blake Gibson, 8.Akira Ioane, 9.Leon Fukofuka, 10.Simon Hickey, 11.Rieko Ioane, 12.Vince Aso, 13.George Moala, 14.Pryor Collier, 15.Latiume Fosita.

Substitutes: 16.Kurt Eklund, 17.Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18.James Lay, 19.Patrick Tuipulotu, 20.Liaki Moli, 21.Jono Hickey, 22.Liam Steel, 23.Tyrone Elkington-McDonald.

Counties Manukau: 1.Sean Bagshaw, 2.Gafatasi Su'a, 3.Kalolo Tuiloma, 4.Viliame Rarasea, 5.Jimmy Topou (captain), 6.Matt Vaai, 7.Jordan Taufua, 8.Sootala Fa'aso'o, 9.Augustine Pulu (captain), 10.Piers Francis, 11.Sherwin Stowers, 12.Cardiff Vaega, 13.Sam Vaka, 14.Sione Fifita, 15.Luteru Laulala.

Substitutes: 16.Sione Anga'aelangi, 17.Sean Paranihi, 18.Sione Falatau, 19.Matiaha Martin, 20.Onosa'a Auva'a, 21.Jonathan Taumateine, 22.Joe Reynolds, 23.Sione Molia.

Squad Update: Auckland have been bolstered by the return of centre George Moala after a long injury break. His return has allowed Rieko Ioane to move to the left wing. Also back from injury is blindside flanker Taleni Seu. Making his debut at fullback will be Latiume Fosita. Still unable to be be considered due to injury are Sam Prattley, Steven Luatua, Melani Nanai and Lolagi Visinia. Auckland will have some powerful contributors off the bench with All Blacks Ofa Tu'ungafasi and Patrick Tuipulotu named. Only two changes have been made to the Counties Manukau side who lost to Taranaki during the week. Sione Fifita will start on the wing with Sione Molia dropping to the reserves bench and in the pack Viliame Rarasea returns at lock with Matiaha Martin back to the reserves.

Key Players: The pressure will be on Auckland's inexperienced front five, especially if Counties Manukau are able to get their own front five working as they did for so long during a fine second-half effort against Taranaki earlier in the week. The loose forward battle should be intriguing with Blake Gibson going head to head with Jordan Taufua, who's fine season continues. But then there is the blindsiders Taleni Seu and Matt Vaai to consider. Auckland definitely have some destructive force available to them in the backline with Vince Aso, George Moala and Rieko Ioane but while they don't enjoy the same high profile, the Counties combination of Cardiff Vaega, Sam Vaka and Sherwin Stowers offer plenty in comparison. Throw in lively fullback Lutera Laulala and the game has all the makings of a thriller with plenty of running action.