10 Oct

ANZC Quarter Finals Preview
by Tracey Nelson
10 Oct 2008

As we head into the quarter final games of the Air New Zealand Cup, just who has the form and talent to kick on to the semi finals?

Friday Oct 10, Christchurch, 7.35pm

In what is looming as a Crusaders trial game, Tasman coach Todd Blackadder will no doubt be wearing two hats as he watches this game unfold tonight. The two sides met in week 5 of the competition, with the Red ‘n Blacks coming out with a 44-15 victory that belied the pressure Tasman had put them under for large parts of the game.

This game will see Brad Thorn’s first outing in the Mako jersey, and he will be having his first ANZC game of the season as will All Black captain Richie McCaw who will come off the bench for the Cantabs. Some key match ups in this game are those between Crusaders halfbacks Andy Ellis and Kahn Fotuali’i, Casey Laulala who is returning from injury and will be up against the in-form Kade Poki who has successfully shifted from the wing into his preferred centre position, Tasman’s 1st 5 Miah Nikora against Colin Slade (initially the third choice 1st 5 for Canterbury at the start of the season), the up and coming Mako’s loosehead Ben May against the veteran All Black tighthead Greg Somerville, and Brad Thorn taking on the young Canterbury locks Isaac Ross and Michael Paterson.

Canterbury are the best defensive side in the competition, only conceding an average of 10 points per game, and more often than not it’s good defence in the big games that will see a side through. To bolster that defence though is their attacking game which is second only to Wellington this year. Despite some terrific performances this season. Tasman will need to be on top of their game to topple the second ranked team in the ANZC. Likely score: 34-15 to Canterbury.

Saturday, Oct 11, Mt Maunganiu, 5.05pm

Both teams go into this qaurter-final on the back of a loss in their last round robin game, BOP having lost to Hawkes Bay 12-46 and Southland going down to Canterbury 6-25. These two are probably the closest matched teams, with BOP just edging Southland 24-22 in week 9. Southland are one of the better defensive sides in the competition, but the worst attacking side of the eight quarter finalists. BOP tend to leak tries like a seive on defence but make up for it by generally scoring a couple more than their opposition.

BOP have no All Blacks to call on, so their side remains settled going into the play-offs despite some injury concerns around key backs Mike Delaney and Nigel Hunt. They have an impressive loose trio in Colin Bourke, Tanerau Latimer and Solomon King, and the speed and skill of Zar Lawrence at fullback. Southland have All Black half back Jimmy Cowan, but he perhaps hasn’t been the impact they were hoping for and was comprehensively beaten around the fringes by his smaller but zippier opposite Ruki Tipuna last time the two sides met. Southland have a mighty front row boasting props Jamie Mackintosh and Chris King, and keep an eye on young fullback Robbie Robinson who has been injecting himself into the backline well this season.

Delaney is the second highest points scorer in the compeition with 88, and it may well come down to which side can land all their kicking chances in what promises to be a very close clash. Likely score: 22-21 to BOP.

Saturday, Oct 11, Wellington, 7.35pm

On paper Wellington have to be the out and out favourites for this game, having scored a massive 353 points in round robin play and boasting top try scorer (11) Hosea Gear on the wing. However, since lifting the Ranfurly Shield off Auckland in week 8 Wellington have been making hard work of it, struggling to overcome a valiant Tasman in the first Shield defence and then being well beaten by out-of-contention Otago in the final round.

Despite Taranki losing their last game to Waikato in what was a marvellous display of try scoring but hardly a copybook approach to defence by either side, they scraped into the final eight thanks to Northland knocking Auckland out. The two sides haven’t played yet in 2008, last year Taranaki were well beaten 12-53 when they ventured down to the capital and they haven’t beaten Wellington since 2003.

Key players for Taranaki will be All Black hooker Andrew Hore, and first five Willie Ripia whose goal kicking has been outstanding this season and currently sits on 76 points for the season. Wellington have All Blacks Piri Weepu, Ma’a Nonu, and on the bench Rodney So’oialo. However, they have lost Neemia Tialata to injury and may struggle a bit at scrum time. Players to watch are up and coming Wellington lock Jeremy Thrush, and the outstanding opensider for Taranaki, Scott Waldrom.

It’s hard to see Taranaki having the mindset and the defence required to keep this Welllington side under wraps on their home turf, but both Tasman and Otago have shown that if you can take the game to them they can be vulnerable. However, expect Wellington to kick on to win this game and win it well. Likely score: 41-15.

HAWKES BAY v WAIKATO (3rd v 6th)
Sunday, Oct 12, Napier, 2.35pm

There are some games that just have that wee bit more to them than others, and this is one of them. The Magpies can boast that they have won the last three matches against Waikato, and on Sunday they will be looking to take that to four. The two teams met in week 8 in Napier, with the home side emerging victors 24-15. Add to this their pre-season victory and the 38-35 win they had over Waikato in the 2007 quarter final, the boasting rights are currently sitting with The Bay.

Waikato had a wretched start to the season, didn’t win a game until week 5 and only have four wins and a draw to their name, compared with Hawkes Bay’s 7 wins 3 losses record. Waikato also have the dubious honour of being the worst defensive side in the play-offs, but sit just one place behind Hawkes Bay in attacking prowess.

With the return of their ace goal kicking 1st 5 Matt Berquist from injury, Hawkes Bay are going into the play-offs with a very settled looking side. Hooker Hikawera Elliot may well be pushing for an All Black jersey for the end of year tour, while in the backline there is speed and guile in the likes of Zac Guildford and Jason Shoemark. Waikato have their All Blacks back in the form of Mils Muliaina (his first ANZC appearance since 2006), Richard Kahui playing at centre, Sitiveni Sivivatu and Sione Lauaki. First five Callum Bruce has racked up 75 points for the season, and Waikato will be relying on his accuracy with the boot.

This is another hard game to call, but on the strength of playing form going into this game, the home advantage and the 2.30pm kick off, my call is leaning towards Hawkes Bay. Likely score: 25-22.

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