Planet Rugby

Preview: Otago v Auckland

10th October 2012 08:30

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Nathan Hughes

At 8 for Aucks: Nathan Hughes

Auckland head coach Wayne Pivac has made three changes to the starting XV for Thursday's match against Otago in Dunedin.

Andrew Van der Heijden returns to action to join Ali Williams in the locking department, while Nathan Hughes replaces Joe Edwards at the back of the scrum.

In the backs, Dave Thomas has overcome bronchitis which saw him miss much of last week's training to resume duties on the left wing in place of Lolagi Visinia.

There is plenty on the line in Thursday's final game of the regular season, with both sides striving to secure a home semi-final.

"Both teams have got the same motivation I guess, we can both make a semi in our respective divisions and then sit back and watch other results provided we get a good result on Thursday," Pivac said.

Auckland are assured of a play-off berth but will need to defeat Otago and then sweat on the result of the Wellington v Taranaki game on Friday to secure a home semi-final.

If either Wellington or Taranaki finish on the same points as Auckland, Auckland will go ahead of them given they have beaten both teams during the round robin.

Pivac did not want to give too much away about the style of play his side would adopt against Otago on Thursday, but under a closed roof at Forsyth Barr Stadium, it will no doubt suit Auckland's lethal backline.

"Everyone knows the style of game we've been playing, we've got some very talented players out wide and we'd like to get the ball in their hands as often as we can so it's going to be great conditions for it.

"We're looking forward to getting down there. For some of the players it's their first time. Certainly a lot of guys played down there earlier in the year and really enjoyed the experience so the fact that there are no weather conditions to worry about is a plus for us."

Otago will be looking to bounce back after a disappointing 49-22 loss to Wellington last Saturday as the hosts prepare to play their fourth game in 13 days.

They will be keen to gain a win over Auckland as Otago are yet to bag a victory against any Premiership side.

Although Otago's All Blacks Tamati Ellison, Ben Smith and Adam Thomson have had limited minutes in the black jersey in the past couple of weeks, they will not be playing for their provincial side.

The teams:

Otago: tbc

Auckland: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Ben Lam, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Dave Thomas, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Alby Mathewson; 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 Daniel Braid (c), 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Andrew Van der Heijden, 3 Angus Ta'avao, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Nathan Vella, 17 Siosiua Halonukonuka, 18 Liaki Moli, 19 Sean Polwart, 20 Scott Patterson, 21 Simon Hickey, 22 Joe Edwards.

Referee: Richard Kelly

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