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SEMIFINAL PREVIEW: Canterbury v Counties Manukau

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Friday, October 21, 2016    allblacks.com    Getty Images

MATCH DETAILS: Sunday 23 October, 2.05pm at AMI Stadium (Addington), Christchurch
Played: 37 (1960–2016)
Wins: Canterbury 25, Counties Manukau 11, Draws: 1
Biggest winning margin: Canterbury by 60 (82–22) in 1999

SQUAD NEWS
After a being rested last week, influential pivot Richie Mo’unga takes the number 10 jersey for Canterbury with Ben Volavola dropping to the bench. While Canterbury have a settled look, Counties Manukau are anything but with a number of injured players bracketed throughout their side. First five-eighth Piers Francis is one player that is definitely ruled out though, after breaking his hand against Canterbury last week.

LAST TIME
Just one week ago, Counties Manukau powered to a 33-21 win over Canterbury to secure their spot in the Premiership semifinals. In a must-win clash for Counties Manukau, they ran in four second half tries to consign Canterbury to just their second loss of the season. The Steelers were powerful upfront while returning wing Toni Pulu ran in two tries to show his class. Canterbury defended well for periods but struggled to contain the Steelers explosive ball runners late in the game.



SCRUM BATTLE
Last week Counties Manukau edged Canterbury in the battle upfront and will be looking to gain the upper hand again in the semifinal. In recent All Blacks Paulasi Manu and Hika Elliot, the Steelers boast two of the finest front row exponents in the country. But the biggest danger could come from the bench in the form of the 140kg Kalolo Tuiloma. Tuiloma has been devastating with ball in hand and immovable in the scrum. Canterbury’s front row trio of Siate Tokolahi, Ben Funnell, Alex Hodgman will need to be equally strong on defence as they are in set piece play to contain the Steelers powerhouse players.

KEY CLASH
The battle between Jordan Taufua and Tom Sanders at blindside flanker could prove crucial. Both players have flourished under the experimental breakdown laws during the Mitre 10 Cup, with their running games proving influential. Taufua was a tower of strength for the Steelers in their victory over Canterbury last week and will need to be watched closely by Sanders if Canterbury are you to secure home final.

VERDICT

Just like they did last week, Counties Manukau will take Canterbury on upfront with their strong ball runners and look to create space out wide for their speedsters. While they did enough in the final round to comfortably beat the defending champions, a semifinal in Christchurch poses a whole set of new challenges. Canterbury have a number of well-rested players returning to their side and should be too polished for a passionate Steelers outfit at home.

TEAMS
Canterbury: Johnny McNicholl, Nathan Earle, Jack Goodhue, Jordie Barrett, George Bridge, Richie Mo'unga, Ereatara Enari, Luke Whitelock (c), Tom Sanders, Reed Prinsep, Dominic Bird, Scott Barrett, Siate Tokolahi, Ben Funnell, Alex Hodgman. Reserves: Nathan Vella, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Oliver Jager, David McDuling, Billy Harmon, Jack Stratton, Inga Finau, Ben Volavola.

Counties Manukau: Luteru Laulala/Toni Pulu, Sione Fifita, Sam Vaka, Cardiff Vaega, Sherwin Stowers, Jonathan Taumateine/Luteru Laulala, Richard Judd, Sootala Fa'aso'o, Jordan Taufua, Jimmy Tupou, (c)/Matt Vaai, Matiaha Martin, Viliame Rarasea, Sean Paranihi, Gafatasi Su'a, Pauliasi Manu. Reserves: Hika Elliot, Sean Bagshaw, Sione Faletau/Kalolo Tuiloma, Matt Vaii/Viliami Taulani/Cameron Skelton, Onosa'i Auva'a, Jonathan Taumateine/Augustine Pulu, Joe Ikenasio, Toni Pulu, Nathan de Thierry.