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ITM Cup - Round 3 preview
Sonny Bill's ITM Cup bow on hold
Scrum.com
August 11, 2010
Canterbury signing Sonny Bill Williams poses for the cameras, Paradise Centre Appartments, Surfers Paradise, Brisbane, Australia, June 24, 2010
Sonny Bill Williams won't make his Canterbury debut in the ITM Cup this weekend against North Harbour due to injury © Getty Images
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You can't quite keep him out of the news and this week it's the non-availability of Sonny Bill Williams for Canterbury that's the headline prior to the third round of the ITM Cup.

The former Toulon centre will not feature against North Harbour as he has a tight hamstring after making his club debut for Belfast last week, but the reigning champions will be boosted by the returns of Corey Flynn and Sam Whitelock. The forward duo are available ahead of their departure with the All Blacks to South Africa for the remainder of their Tri-Nations campaign.

They're also lifted by the returns of scrum-half Takerei Norton and Nasi Manu as well as that of wing Patrick Osborne. North Harbour scraped home 25-24 over Northland last week and the coaching duo of Craig Dowd and Jeff Wilson will be hoping for a similar level of resilience on Friday night in Christchurch.

Tasman host Hawke's Bay on Thursday in the round's opening fixture and will be looking to record their first win of the season after going down to Wellington and Taranaki over the opening fortnight. Tasman are boosted by the returning Ben Franks from All Black duty.

Franks starts at tight-head prop with Fai Mika moving to loose-head. Sam Prattley drops out of the 22, while Hamish Cochrane remains on the bench. Joe Wheeler starts at No.8 with Tasi Luafutu switching to openside flank and Glenn Gregory packing down alongside captain Chris Jack in the second row.

For Hawke's Bay there are six changes to the side that lost to Bay of Plenty. All Black Israel Dagg is at fullback, replacing new recruit and former Toulon star Luke Rooney. Daniel Kirkpatrick replaces Andrew Horrell at scrum-half, skipper Jason Shoemark moves from centre to the No.10 jersey and national Under-20 player Star Timu starts at outside-centre for his ITM Cup run-on debut.

Bay of Plenty take on Auckland with each side having won one and lost one so far this season. Last week the Steamers comprehensively saw off the challenge of Hawke's Bay while Auckland will be looking to bounce back after a narrow loss to Waikato. The Braid brothers, Auckland skipper Daniel and Bay of Plenty's Luke, will go head-to-head at openside. Aucklans have been forced to make one change by injury, Dave Thomas replacing winger Chay Raui.

Tana Umaga's Counties Manukau side are certainly putting memories of their wooden-spoon campaign of last season behind them. They've beaten Otago and Wellington already to top the log and now come up against unbeaten Southland on Saturday to challenge for the Ranfurly Shield in Invercargill. It's a prize that they've not won since the union formed in 1955 and also one missing from Umaga's CV. The former All Black skipper starts at inside-centre for Counties, while Southland have made two changes to their starting forward pack from the side which defended the Shield against Otago last Saturday. Kane Thompson replaces Elliott Dixon at No.8 while lock Joe Tuineau makes way for Alex Ryan.

Otago are desperate for their first win of the season against Wellington at Carisbrook after losses to Counties Manukau and Southland. They will be missing flank Eben Joubert through injury though and Paul Grant starts in his place. Wellington have had an indifferent start having beaten Tasman but losing to Counties in their two hit-outs this season so far.

Sunday's two matches see Manawatu travel to Northland and Taranaki to Waikato. Manawatu come off the back of two narrow losses while Northland have beaten Taranaki and lost by a single point to North Harbour. Waikato are unbeaten as yet and will be looking for a third straight win at the Waikato Stadium in Hamilton.

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