Waikato have picked a physical forward pack for the grudge match in Mt Maunganui today that is likely to decide who gets relegated from the national provincial premiership.
Having rested a number of players who were either carrying niggling injuries or had already played extensive minutes in this ITM Cup season for the disastrous midweek loss to Tasman, the Mooloos are primed for a do-or-die effort in the Chiefs derby against rivals Bay of Plenty who are seven points behind them on the table in last place.
Waikato head coach John Walters was assistant coach of the Bay side last season and is in a good position to know the mindset of the Steamers.
"The Bay don't look favourably on Waikato, they don't like Waikato so we're expecting a pretty physical battle and we've prepared our boys for a physical battle," Walters said yesterday after naming a starting team with 10 personnel changes and one positional one from the 64-28 loss in Nelson on Wednesday night.
"We don't want to sit back and wait for it, we want to start it. We want to hook into them right from the get-go."
Walters said Bay of Plenty regarded Waikato the same way Waikato regarded Auckland as a big brother that needed to be knocked down.
"I know they don't rate us so we've used that as motivation for this week. They think they can take us on up front and our boys are pretty fired up and prepared for that."
The front row of Toby Smith, Brayden Mitchell and Ben Tameifuna all come back into the Waikato starting pack along with lock Brian Alainu'uese and loose forwards Rory Grice and Adam Burn, although they have lost regular starting lock Sam Kilgour who will be away in Christchurch at his brother's wedding. That means utility forward Whetu Douglas holds his place at lock after starting for the first time against Tasman.
Walters said the forwards had produced strong physical efforts already against leading teams Auckland and Wellington, with Super Rugby-laden packs, and the same approach was needed this afternoon at Baypark Stadium.
"If we turn up with the right attitude, ready for a scrap then I'm expecting really good things.
"These sort of games are why a true sportsman plays sport. It's going to be tight, we're in a similar position on the table and really it's doe-or-die, it's desperation stuff for us so before anything else we need to see attitude, we need to see character and competitiveness and fight in our guys."
Zane Kapeli and Josh Tyrell have again been picked on the bench after strong cameo efforts against Tasman and Walters said they represented the future of Waikato packs.
Flanker Jack Lam is still out with a torn hamstring and lock Sean Hohneck with a neck/shoulder injury, while centre Save Tokula is bracketed on the bench with Joe Perawiti after his knee locked up on the sideline in Nelson. A decision was to be made today but Walters said Tokula was confident of being fit to play.
The five-eighth combination of youngster Wharenui Hawera and Sam Christie that worked well against Wellington will again play outside in-form halfback Brad Weber, while Jackson Willison returns from injury at centre to captain the side and youngster Niko Malo gets his first start on the wing after an impressive showing off the bench against Tasman with both Tim Mikkelson and Joe Webber selected for the New Zealand Sevens team.
Young rookie midfield back Falelima Siinei gets a bench spot after a promising debut midweek.
The Bay of Plenty team will be again captained by former Waikato first-five Willie Ripia and includes two other ex-Waikato players in Josh Sole and Johan Bardoul in the forward pack.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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