Tasman out to break Stags duck
The Tasman Makos have one clearcut motivational spur as they prepare for tomorrow's ITM Cup rugby clash with Southland in Blenheim.
Tasman have never beaten Southland in four previous attempts, their closest result being a 6-3 loss in Blenheim four years ago. However, Southland have yet to record a win this season after three straight losses to Counties-Manukau (30-9), Wellington (40-8) and Otago (15-10).
It means they're either ripe for the picking, or ready to finally unleash after such a frustrating start to their campaign.
Southland have now lost six in a row if their losses to Wellington, Taranaki and Bay of Plenty in the final three rounds of the 2011 season are also taken into account.
Their last win was more than a year ago when Scott Cowan scored to retain the Ranfurly Shield against North Harbour.
So they're definitely due and feeling equally motivated to perform, particularly against a Tasman side many of Southland's faithful have perceived to be relatively bankable championship points over the years.
But Tasman have been building nicely, picking up their first five-point championship haul since 2010 in Sunday's commanding 27-3 win over Manawatu.
Coaches Kieran Keane and Leon MacDonald juggled their bench judiciously on Sunday, ensuring adequate rest for a number of their key forwards as they reach the halfway point in their busiest week of the season.
Locks Filipo Levi and Tevita Cavubati still had to share 40 minutes each to cover a late knee injury to scheduled starter Joe Wheeler. However, Wheeler is back in action tomorrow and joins Levi in the middle row, with flanker Gary Redmond retaining his place alongside Shane Christie and N 8 Jordan Taufua as part of a dynamic loose forward trio.
Halfback Jeremy Su'a has recovered from the head knock that forced him from the field on Sunday and will start at No 9, while James Lowe starts on the left wing. Talented 20-year-old Aucklander Albert Nikoro joins the squad on a two-week deal to help cover injuries to fullback Tom Marshall, wing Mitchell Scott and centre Bryce Heem.
The former Mt Albert Grammar product represented New Zealand secondary schools in both 2009-10 and was called into this year's Blues wider training group after some impressive displays with his Papatoetoe club side. He made his only Super 15 appearance off the bench against the Brumbies, having missed the 2011 season with a knee injury.
The Stags have been boosted by Elliot Dixon's long awaited return from injury.
The hard-running No 8 has been sidelined since May after suffering a chest injury while playing for the Highlanders against the Sharks in Durban.
Dixon's return means loose forward Scott McKee, who debuted against Otago last week, switches to blindside flanker.
Stags coach David Henderson has handed a starting debut to young wing Junior Ngaluafe, with Mark Wells also gaining his first start of the year, on the left wing.
Highlanders outside back and former Tasman player Kade Poki moves into centre, with Nathan Hohaia dropping to the bench.
- © Fairfax NZ News