In four clashes in the last three seasons, there have never been more than eight points between Waikato and Auckland.
Waikato will today be hoping they can repeat their strong recent record in tight tussles with their rivals from the other side of the Bombay Hills, after a stuttering start to the NPC premiership, with a win and a loss against championship division teams in crossover matches.
You have to go back to 2009 to find the last time Waikato lost one of those last four games against Auckland and few could forget the two thrilling cliffhanger finishes at Eden Park in 2010, when Waikato first won 21-18 in the regular season with a Dwayne Sweeney try after the final hooter, and then took out the semifinal 38-37 over two months later with a Hikairo Forbes try, again after the hooter.
Auckland have already played three matches and won two, losing to Canterbury, while Waikato are about to experience their first midweek game of the season next week in what will be a telling three matches in eight days, starting today.
Every Waikato player relishes the chance to take on Auckland at Eden Park and become part of the rich fabric of history between the two provinces.
But Waikato will need to take the right attitude and discipline into today's afternoon fixture, most of the discipline needing to be directed at sticking to a game plan, and playing within the structures that have been put in place after a tendency to wander off into individual forays in their loss to Northland last weekend.
"I think, on reflection, we did some very good things [against Northland] and when we do those and do them consistently we get the performance that we're after," head coach Chris Gibbes said.
"We talk about the attention to detail but if you haven't quite got the right attitude, or you haven't done the work it's pretty hard to get that, so that's one of the key things we've talked about as a group and we've trained it.
"I'm pretty happy with where we're at at the moment, based on our learnings from Northland."
Gibbes and backs coach Scott McLeod have made two key changes to their backline, searching for more direction, straighter attack and stiffer defence, with the selection of five-eighths Piers Francis and Joe Perawiti, pushing Jackson Willison out to centre.
Francis was on the bench for Auckland at Waikato Stadium last year, when Waikato won 26-19, but has been brought in to improve Waikato's kicking game, and is excited to play against his old team at Eden Park, in his first start for his new province.
"Obviously I was up there last year and I'm down here this year so it's a fixture that I'm excited about," Francis said.
But he knows he carries a big responsibility to execute Waikato's game plan.
"We will be playing to the game plan and a lot of that rests on my shoulders, but I'm willing to take it on, and on Saturday we aim to play a bit more how we are suited.
"I'm pretty sure everyone is crystal clear now, including myself, on how we're going to play.
"We've got a certain way of playing and we are going to apply that.
"We're pretty focused on ourselves. We know what Auckland are going to bring, they're a very good team, but we believe in what we've got.
"We believe in our game plan and structures to get us across the line."
Francis said Auckland played an exciting brand of rugby under coach Wayne Pivac and had some fast, exciting players in their backline, particularly in a potent back three.
"We've put a lot of focus on defence as well this week.
"We're looking not to give them too much space to do what they can do.
"That back three is pretty dangerous if you give them ball."
Auckland: Charles Piutau, Ben Lam, Malakai Fekitoa, Hadleigh Parkes, George Moala, Gareth Anscombe, Alby Mathewson, Peter Saili, Sean Polwart, Steven Luatua, Liaki Moli, Sean Brookman, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Tom McCartney, Pauliasi Manu. Res: Nathan Vella, Angus Ta'avao, Nathan Hughes, Joe Edwards, Auvasa Faleali'i, Simon Hickey, Dave Thomas.
Waikato: Trent Renata, Declan O'Donnell, Jackson Willison, Joe Perawiti, Tim Mikkelson, Piers Francis, Brendon Leonard, Alex Bradley, Zak Hohneck, Matt Vant Leven, Romana Graham, Chris Middleton, Ben May, Marcel Cummings-Toone, Toby Smith. Res: Vance Elliott, Ted Tauroa, Rory Grice, Jono Armstrong, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Sam Christie, Joe Webber. Referee: Richard Kelly. Kickoff: 2.35pm today, Eden Park, Auckland.
- © Fairfax NZ News