Revenge is in the air.
So says Counties Manukau wing Sherwin Stowers as he contemplates how Hawkes Bay might approach their work in this afternoon's Ranfurly Shield clash at Pukekohe, the seventh defence of this reign.
It is almost a year ago to the day since the Steelers lifted the Log o' Wood for the first time with a 27-24 win over the Magpies in Napier. Stowers himself was among the tryscorers that famous day.
"I can never forget that day. Most of the boys are back, but I can imagine Hawkes Bay talking about that same game during the week, and they'll come up here with a bit of revenge on their minds," said Stowers, who has had a big six weeks, becoming a father, winning a Commonwealth Games silver medal for the All Blacks Sevens, and now in the midst again of Shield fever.
The 28-year-old has shifted to the wing as captain Tim Nanai-Williams slots back into fullback, giving a more potent look to a Steelers backline that hasn't quite fired yet this season, the pack picking up much of the slack.
"The effort was there [against Otago]. We probably tried to do a bit too much at times. That's why we lost possession. We just need to be patient and trust our systems," added Stowers.
He was happy to hear the news that Israel Dagg would be playing for the Magpies.
"That's awesome. It's great to have someone of his calibre playing, one of the best fullbacks in the world, and that helps lift our game. They've got a lot of Super Rugby players too, guys like [Richard] Buckman and [Robbie] Fruean."
Coach Tana Umaga has made three changes to his line-up, with Johnny Kawau slotting in at blindside flanker.
Auckland will celebrate 'Schools Day' on Sunday at Eden Park with all their players wearing their old school rugby socks against Tasman. No less than 17 of the Auckland 22 played their First XV rugby in the union.
All Blacks Charlie Faumuina and Steven Luatua will join Charlie Piutau in the starting XV, with Marist club lock William Lloyd winning a start at the expense of the injured Liaki Moli.
Coach Paul Feeney felt his team made progress in the 35-7 win over Manawatu but much more will be needed against the hot-to-trot, 2-0 Tasman Makos.
"They've got threats all over the park. I'd say we'd have to up our game by 30 per cent."
Auckland Grammar will face Westlake Boys' High in the 2.30pm curtainraiser, which is the Blues regional final.
North Harbour will look to break their duck tonight against a Waikato outfit chastened by a 46-17 midweek hiding at the hands of Taranaki.
An ankle injury to Nafi Tuitavake has forced a backline reshuffle, with Niko Ratumaitavuki moving into the No 12 jersey as the sole change from the loss to Southland. Waikato have made nine changes for their third match in eight days, Ben Tameifuna back at tighthead prop and Tawera Kerr-Barlow moving to the bench.
Counties Manukau v Hawkes Bay (RS), Pukekohe, 2.35pm
Southland v Otago, Invercargill, 5.35pm
North Harbour v Waikato, Albany, 7.35pm
Taranaki v Bay of Plenty, New Plymouth, 2.35pm
Auckland v Tasman, Auckland, 4.35pm