Preview: Waikato v Canterbury

Date published: September 2 2011

Canterbury will play in their fourth ITM Cup final on the bounce when they tackle Waikato in a repeat of last year's decider.

Canterbury will play in their fourth ITM Cup final on the bounce when they tackle Waikato in a repeat of last year's decider.

The three-time defending champions will look to keep hold of their crown in Hamilton on Saturday and secure an impressive fourth consecutive title when the two teams battle it out for provincial supremacy.

Canterbury won the 2010 final against Waikato in Christchurch after beating them comprehensively 33-13.

However, this year they have to travel to the Mooloo Men's home ground at Waikato Stadium, where the hosts' fanatical cowbell-ringing fans will no doubt be out in full force.

Waikato also hold the psychological advantage, knowing they got the better of Canterbury when the two teams last faced each other a couple weeks ago, with the visitors winning 27-13.

Canterbury and Waikato both finished the regular season on 33 points, and the men in red and black with a 46-point better points differential. But the final will be played in Hamilton because of Waikato's win over Canterbury in pool play.

Waikato qualified for their second consecutive ITM Cup final when they scored a last-gasp 26-19 bonus-point victory over traditional rivals Auckland.

Despite Canterbury's 29-16 win over Otago in Dunedin, a failure to capture a bonus point cost them a home final.

Instead, the trophy will be battled out in Hamilton – Waikato's first home final since 2006 when they beat Wellington 37-31 at Waikato Stadium and have only won it once before that (in 1992 – which was also a home final).

“This is the big one for us and what we have been working towards all season,'' said Waikato coach Chris Gibbes.

“We have done the work and prepared the best we can. It is time to play.''

Canterbury have had the luxury of playing the last two finals at home after they won on the road in 2008, but coach Rob Penney said his team would have to lift one more time on Saturday.

“Hamilton's a really difficult place to win,” he said.

“We've had a bit of success there in the past with [Ranfurly] Shield games but we've had our fair share of losses there as well.

“I don't think it's going to be an issue for us in terms of the travel but they'll be highly motivated and excited about playing at home and it might lift their intensity a bit more.

“We'll have to play the best game of our season to compete and, who knows from there? We'll just see what happens. I'm not predicting a result either way, really.''

In team news, Gibbes has made one change to his starting XV that beat Auckland with Sam Christie coming in at inside centre for the injured Save Tokula (hamstring) and Jackson Willison moving to thirteen.

Gibbes will no doubt look to his bench sooner rather than later with discarded All Blacks wing Sitiveni Sivivatu, who missed the final cut for New Zealand's World Cup squad, warming pine alongside scrum-half Brendon Leonard.

Meanwhile, Penney has made two changes to the side that beat Otago last weekend which sees the return of Sean Maitland from a foot injury, who replaces the in-form Tom Taylor at full-back while Telusa Veainu replaces Johnny McNicholl on the right wing.

This year sees a straight final rather than semi-final play-offs because of the compressed nature of the competition – squeezed in between an expanded Super Rugby competition and the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

Ones to watch:

For Waikato: Former All Black Stephen Donald will want to go out a winner in his final game in New Zealand before he takes up a three-year contract with Bath.

For Canterbury: With a few All Black loosies battered and bruised following last weekend's Tri-Nations clash, George Whitelock and Matt Todd will feel Saturday's ITM Cup final could be their last chance to show Graham Henry that they're up for the job should any injuries strike New Zealand's World Cup squad.

Head to head: The battle of the loose forwards should be a mouth-watering affair with the likes of Waikato's Liam Messam – another unwanted All Black who will also be out to prove Henry wrong – and veteran Marty Holah up against Todd and Whitelock.

Prediction: Tough to call. But we'll go for a Waikato win by … five points!

The teams:
Waikato: 15 Trent Renata, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Jackson Willison, 12 Sam Christie, 11 Tim Mikkelson, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Alex Bradley, 7 Marty Holah, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Romana Graham, 4 Toby Lynn, 3 Nathan White, 2 Marcel Cummings-Toone, 1 Toby Smith.
Replacements: 16 Vance Elliott, 17 Ben May, 18 Matt Vant Leven, 19 Zak Hohneck, 20 Brendon Leonard, 21 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 22 Declan O'Donnell, 23 Ted Tauroa.

Canterbury: 15 Sean Maitland, 14 Telusa Veainu, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Tyler Bleyendaal, 9 Willi Heinz, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock (c), 5 Ash Parker, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Paul Ngauamo, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Luke Katene, 19 Brendon O'Connor, 20 Takerei Norton, 21 Tom Taylor, 22 Johnny McNicholl, 23 Andrew Olorenshaw.

Date: Saturday, September 3
Venue: Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
Kick-off: 19:35 (07:35 GMT)
Referee: Garratt Williamson
Assistant referees: Nick Briant, Sheldon Eden-Whaitiri
TMO: Chris Morgan