Victory would make life easier for Canterbury
The equation for the Canterbury rugby team this weekend is simple - beat Bay Of Plenty or pack your bags.
As they head into the final match of the round-robin section of the national provincial rugby championship in Christchurch tomorrow, the red-and-blacks are stuck in the nervous position of needing to win to avoid having to travel for the playoffs.
They are second, with Auckland who have completed pool play three points ahead, and the two teams behind them - Wellington and Taranaki go into battle in a match which will determine who gets the other home playoff.
So Canterbury need to win.
Preferably with a bonus point to remain on top of the competition ladder and give themselves a chance of a home semifinal, then final, over the next two weeks.
The challenge lies in the fact that Tabai Matson's players are about to face their third match in a week and are nursing a few battered and bruised bodies after two intense and physical matches.
"Unfortunately, we have lost Luke Katene for the rest of the season with a dislocated elbow," Matson said.
"It's a shame because he has had such a great season for us and now, hopefully, on the back of what he has done, he will push for higher honours somewhere.
"Other than that, it's just your general bumps and bruises but we have been really conservative in our approach to the weekend as we want to get everyone we can on the field."
The Canterbury record over the past three matches has become quite compelling with the defending champions running in 184 points in their last three matches and conceding just 14.
While it is points which ultimately win you games, , the other side of the ledger has been one of the most pleasing aspects for Matson.
"Our defence has been really pleasing, it's something we have had as a constant work-on all season.
"The attitude of the players all season has been great, but particularly in defence they have put a lot of pride into their effort.
"And as it has been shown in the last two finals, it is often defence which is the most critical aspect of your game with very few tries scored."
Canterbury will welcome back second-five Ryan Crotty for tomorrow's match after two weeks on the sideline with a pectoral injury.
He slots back into his preferred position meaning Tom Taylor pushes back to fullback and Johnny McNicholl shifts back to the wing.
All told, Matson has made eight changes to the side which beat Hawke's Bay 44-3 on Wednesday night.
Wyatt Crockett has regrouped with the All Blacks meaning Joe Moody steps back into the No 1 jersey.
Joel Everson will join Dominic Bird in the locking department with Ben Funnell and Codie Taylor swapping around again with the latter shifting to the bench.
Matt Todd is back at No 7 with George Whitelock shifting to the opposite side, and Andy Ellis will start over Willi Heinz at halfback.
Jed Brown comes onto the reserves bench as a cover for Katene.
A late try by Marty McKenzie has kept Southland's season alive with a 17-11 win in Invercargill that ended Manawatu's hopes of making the NPC Championship semifinals.
The Stags will now have a nervous wait until tomorrow afternoon to see if Counties Manukau can beat Northland and knock the Taniwha out of the top four.
Manawatu took an 8-7 lead into halftime with both teams scoring in the first spell.
The Stags scored through Cardiff Vaega, who bumped his way through two tackles, with Scott Eade converting from the sideline.
Manawatu's Ma'a Fia was credited with their try after the Turbos rumbled the ball around the fringes of the ruck.
Eade kicked Southland to a 10-8 lead soon after the break but Manawatu earned a cheap scrum penalty soon after which Craig Clare banged over with Nate George off the field for a concussion check.
In the final movement of the game, Mark Wells broke clear and Vaega carried strongly before McKenzie managed to sneak over on the blindside.
Scorers: Southland 17 (Cardiff Vaega, Marty McKenzie tries; Scott Eade 2 con, pen) Manawatu 11 (Ma'a Fia try; Nate George pen, Craig Clare pen) HT: 7-8.
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