The Best of the Day preview charges into the ruck with Mitre 10 Cup Rugby tips for Hawke’s Bay’s massive clash with Northland as the cherished Ranfurly Shield goes on the line. 

Last meeting: August 31, 2019: Hawke’s Bay 43 d Northland 28 at Northland Events Centre

Final thoughts: The Best of the Day preview breaks down the Mitre 10 Cup Round 6 opener between Championship Division high-flyers Hawke’s Bay and Northland.

But the heated race for semi-final spots will be secondary to the more immediate prize: the Ranfurly Shield.

This is Hawke’s Bay’s first Shield defence since winning it off Otago in Round 4. Northland have not held the hallowed ‘Log ‘o Wood’ since 1978 – and the Taniwha are in hot form.

Top-placed Northland have already doubled their 2019 win tally, going 4-1. After showcasing their attacking wares in a 35-25 victory over Taranaki in Round 4, they grinded out a tough 18-14 win over Southland last Sunday.

The Taniwha’s only loss was to Premiership heavyweights Tasman in Round 2.

Second-placed Hawke’s Bay were flying after three straight wins over Counties Manukau, Canterbury and Otago.

But they were humbled 46-10 by resurgent North Harbour in Round 5. It was a jarring performance for a team that had conceded an average of just 15 points per game previously – though coach Ozich had made wholesale changes to his Shield challenge-weary line-up.

Just three members of last week’s starting side keep their places this week for Hawke’s Bay. Northland have made only two changes, with Josh Goodhue and Kalolo Tuiloma coming into the tight five.

Hawke’s Bay have won their last two against Northland. The Magpies grabbed a 43-28 road win in Whangarei last season, with winger Neria Fomai scoring a hat-trick.

Northland’s short turnaround, the physical toll of their mammoth defensive against Southland and the weight of the province’s 42-year Ranfurly Shield drought are significant obstacles for the visitors to overcome. But the Taniwha’s form can’t be ignored and they look way over the odds as $5.10 underdogs.

Getting behind Northland with a two-try head-start appears the clear Best of the Day option.

Tip: Handicap – Northland +13.5 @ $1.90