Preview: Counties v Auckland

Date published: October 7 2014

Counties coach Tana Umaga has made two changes to his starting XV for Wednesday’s clash with Auckland in Pukekohe.

Counties Manukau coach Tana Umaga has made two changes to his starting XV for Wednesday’s clash with Auckland in Pukekohe.

The only changes made to the side that beat Southland on Saturday have been injury enforced ones.

Dan Hyatt will start at openside flanker, with Onosa’i Auva’a out with an eye injury and Andy Muirhead will replace Toni Pulu on the left wing who took a knock at the Southland game and is being kept out for precautionary measures.

Augustine Pulu will captain the side.

In the reserves Sam Henwood will take his place with Mike Stanley and they are joined by Sonny Bill Williams who will make his long awaited return to rugby.

Umaga expects Auckland to be on a high after they claimed a 60-19 victory over Waikato in their previous match.

“We are aware that Auckland will head into this match with a great deal of confidence after their last win and we expect this to be a typical intense encounter with our neighbours up the motorway,” he said.

Meanwhile, Auckland captain Tom McCartney and Liaki Moli are expected to return from injury to the starting line-up while Hadleigh Parkes and Francis Saili will combine in the midfield for the first time since Round Two.

“Hadleigh wants an opportunity at second five-eighths and we haven’t given him too many this season,” said Auckland coach Paul Feeney.

“He started there against Manawatu with Francis outside him and we had a good win that day.

“We also think it’s the right time to give Francis a start again, he’ll be very motivated and we look forward to see how he and Hadleigh go,” said Feeney.

The mid-week match holds huge ramifications in the race for the play-offs.

“In essence it’s a quarter final,” added Feeney, with the winner of this encounter likely to take fourth spot on the Premiership table.

“On top of that, it’s a local derby and all the boys know each other. We want to make sure we have the momentum heading into the semi-finals, should we get there.”

While Auckland has had the edge over their southern neighbours in recent years, no more than five points have separated the two teams in their last three matches.

“They’re very dangerous with good players across the park and on their day can beat anyone,” explained Feeney.

“We know they are a huge threat, especially playing at home and against us.”

The winner of the match will claim the Dan Bryant Memorial Trophy, currently held by Auckland.

The teams:

Counties Manukau: 15 Tim Nanai-Williams, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Rey Lee-lo, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Andy Muirhead, 10 Ahsee Tuala, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Maama Vaipulu, 7 Dan Hyatt, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Jimmy Tupou, 4 Sikeli Nabou, 3 Jarrod Firth, 2 Suliasi Taufalele, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Sione Anga’aelangi, 17 Sean Bagshaw, 18 Viliami Rarasea, 19 Sam Henwood, 20 Kane Hancy, 21 Mike Stanley, 22 Sonny Bill Williams.

Auckland: 15 Lolagi Visinia, 14 Ben Lam/Melani Nanai, 13 Francis Saili, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 George Moala, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Junior Poluleuligaga, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Sean Polwart, 6 Joe Edwards, 5 Liaki Moli/Jack Whetton, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 2 Tom McCartney/Gafatasi Su’a, 1 Sam Prattley.
Replacements: 16 Gafatasi Sua/Sam Thomas, 17 Nick Barrett/Fraser Armstrong, 18 Jack Whetton/Will Lloyd, 19 Blake Gibson, 20 Leon Fukofuka, 21 TJ Faiane, 22 Simon Hickey.

Date: Wednesday, October 8
Kick-off: 19:35 local (07:35 BST, 06:35 GMT)
Venue: ECOLight Stadium, Pukekohe
Referee: Kane McBride