Facing two games in four days, Otago would do their play-off hopes a big favour by securing a win over Northland in Whangarei on Wednesday.
WALKING WOUNDED: Otago will be without wing Fa’asiu Fuatai, who is on the injured list, but with two games in four days, coach Tony Brown has taken the chance to rest some of his harder worked players this season. Halfback Fumiaki Tanaka and first five-eighths Hayden Parker are on the bench along with flanker Gareth Evans. Ezra Taylor will play at lock instead of Tom Donnelly.
FORM: Northland have had a poor season with nothing in the win column in their last five games and it is the loss to Championship teams, Tasman 13-28 and Manawatu 16-22 that best demonstrates the run of poor form that has bedevilled the side. Otago have looked to regain some of their Ranfurly Shield-winning touch in recent outings and they bounced back well from their 32-38 loss to Southland to comfortably account for North Harbour 37-23 at the weekend.
WE THINK: Northland have had a poor season and this penultimate game of the season is a rare chance to boost themselves on the ladder. There is also the increasing incentive to send Rene Ranger on his way with a positive end to the season. However, opposing that motivational force is the desire of Otago to secure a semi-finals place and in the final outcome that is likely to be the superior factor. Otago have opted to reduce their experience by giving fringe team members starts but those replacements have every reason to make the most of their chances and for that reason we pick
Otago by by 10.
Northland: 1. Ross Wright, 2.Matt Moulds, 3. Bronson Murray, 4. Tom Murday, 5. Bryce Williams, 6. Roy Griffin, 7. Dan Pryor, 8. Jake Paringatai, 9.Mac Sykes, 10.Ben Seymour, 11. Mateo Malupo, 12. Viliami Tahitu’a, 13. Rene Ranger (c), 14. Whiria Meltzer, 15. Mathew Wright.
Reserves: 16. Robbie Abel, 17. Will-Griff John, 18. Dave Morgan, 19. Ben Berridge, 20. Sonatane Takulua, 21. Daniel Hawkins, 22. Derek Carpenter.
Otago1.Craig Millar, 2. Sam Anderson Heather, 3.Scott Manson, 4.Ezra Taylor, 5.Tom Franklin, 6.Lee Allan, 7.Hugh Blake, 8.Paul Grant (captain), 9. Josh Renton, 10.Peter Breen, 11.Matt Faddes, 12.Tei Walden, 13.Jayden Spence, 14.Buxton Popali’i, 15.Tony Ensor.
Reserves: 16. Liam Coltman, 17.Aki Seiuli, 18.Charlie O’Connell, 19.TJ Ioane, 20.Gareth Evans, 21. Fumiaki Tanaka, 22. Hayden Parker .