Preview: Canterbury v Auckland

Date published: October 23 2015

After not making the final for the first time in six seasons in 2014, Canterbury have a chance to reclaim the ITM Cup trophy against Auckland on Saturday.

Christchurch will be the setting for this final as the two teams overcame Taranaki and Tasman fairly comfortably in last week's semi-finals.

The Cantabs won a breathless game against the 'Naki 46-20 while Auckland blew Tasman away before taking their foot off the gas in a 44-24 win.

Saturday promises so much as a spectacle and it is good to see the two best teams in the competition fight it out for glory. Add in the two leading try-scorers this season, Rob Thompson and George Moala, going head to head and we're all set for a gripping 80 minutes.

Canterbury have made one change to their XV for the game as Patrick Osborne returns from a calf strain while Auckland do the same, with Vince Aso coming in at outside centre which means Charles Piutau shifts to full-back in place of Melani Nanai who misses out on the matchday squad.

Auckland will enter their first final since 2012 confident after recent performances that have been driven by the ever-improving Akira Ioane. And it will come as little surprise if Canterbury have been working on a plan to try and stifle the young number eight's impact in the match. 

Head coach Paul Feeney is confident though of a strong team outing in the final, even playing at a ground they lost at earlier in the season.

"I'm not worried about recent years because this is a different group. In recent years we have been poor away from home, this year, we've only lost one away game. If we play to our potential on Saturday there is no reason why we can't win the championship," he said ahead of the game.

Canterbury head coach Scott Robertson meanwhile says the feeling in his camp is one of excitement as they look to respond from 2014's disappointment.

"The excitement in the team at the moment is huge, the boys are fizzing," he said. "There is nothing quite like finals footy, and particularly when it's a classic Canterbury versus Auckland clash. We have done everything we can to prepare for this final game and give ourselves the best opportunity to come away with the trophy. Now the boys just can't wait to get out there and play.

"This is a special group of men who I know will put everything out on the field on Saturday night, for each other and also for our awesome supporters. Running out onto our home ground for the final will be one of those special moments in their careers and I am sure it will be a memorable game for everyone both on the field and in the stands on Saturday night."

Ones to watch:

For Canterbury: On the week it was announced he would be heading to the Highlanders for Super Rugby 2016, Rob Thompson will hope to celebrate that big move by helping his team lift the ITM Cup. For a long time an under-rated centre who can play on the wing, Thompson will have gained plenty of confidence from knowing he will get a lot more minutes in Dunedin than he has at the Crusaders over the years but season after season for Canterbury he has impressed. Alongside Ryan Crotty, Thompson is part of a strong midfield line-up who must stop George Moala.

For Auckland: Surely a future All Black in the coming year or two, number eight Akira Ioane has been in great form during the end of the campaign and will look to carry that into Saturday. Only 20 but a real leader in this Auckland side, can Ioane be the driving force and help his team to their first ITM Cup title since 2007? He will look for help from the likes of soon-to-be Wasps full-back Charles Piutau.

Head-to-head: Back from injury at just the right time for the men in red and black, Patrick Osborne returns on the left wing for Canterbury and goes up against an excellent player in Bryce Heem. The former Tasman man lost at this stage last season and he will hope his move to Auckland changes his fortunes on Saturday. Heem is a strong defender and will have to be against the powerful Osborne in what will be a fascinating match-up. Also keep an eye how the two decision makers, Richie Mo'unga and Simon Hickey fare under the pressure.

Prediction: On their own patch it will be tough to go against the home side. Canterbury by 5!

The teams:

Canterbury: 15 Tom Taylor, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Rob Thompson, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Richie Mo'unga, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Reed Prinsep, 5 Dominic Bird, 4 Mitchell Dunshea, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Dan Lienert-Brown.
Replacements: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Ben Matwijow, 20 Tom Sanders, 21 Jack Stratton, 22 Cameron McIntyre, 23 Marshall Suckling.

Auckland: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Bryce Heem, 13 Vince Aso, 12 George Moala, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Simon Hickey, 9 Kaito Shigeno, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Mitch Karpik, 6 Joe Edwards, 5 Scott Scrafton, 4 Michael Fatialofa, 3 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 2 Greg Pleasants-Tate, 1 Isileli Tu'ungafasi.
Replacements: 16 Kurt Eklund, 17 Tom McHugh, 18 Jono Owen, 19 William Lloyd, 20 Matt Matich, 21 Jono Hickey, 22 Mitch Hunt, 23 Lolagi Visinia.

Date: Saturday, October 24
Venue: AMI Stadium (Addington), Christchurch
Kick-off: 19:35 local (07:35 BST, 06:35 GMT)
Referee: Ben O'Keeffe
Assistant referees: Brendon Pickerill, Damian Botherway
Television match official: Chris Wratt