Tuesday, 10 October 2017
Naholo on wing as Taranaki out to ‘win shield’ against Manawatu
The Port Taranaki Bulls won the Ranfurly Shield in sensational fashion against Canterbury and will go out to “win it again” when they take on Manawatu at Yarrow Stadium tomorrow night.
“The beauty of the Ranfurly Shield is it’s open to anyone and you have to win it every time you play for it – everyone brings their A game,” Port Taranaki Bulls coach Colin Cooper said.
“Just because we have it doesn’t mean we own it, so we have to go and win it again.”
Cooper has named another strong side to do just that, with the inclusion of All Blacks winger Waisake Naholo adding another attacking dimension to a team that racked up seven tries against Canterbury.
Naholo, now free to play for his province, is the only change to the starting XV, with regular right wing Declan O’Donnell shifted to the bench.
“Waisake loves playing for Taranaki and is always asking the All Blacks coaches if he can be released to play,” Cooper said. “It also allows Declan a bit of a rest as he’s played a lot of minutes and had a heavy workload.”
After producing a masterful performance from the reserves against Canterbury, team captain Charlie Ngatai, who missed two games after suffering a head knock against Bay of Plenty, is again given a chance to ease into his return and will start on the bench. That means Sean Wainui remains at second five-eighth, with Seta Tamanivalu at centre. Johnny Fa’auli is not considered as he continues to recover from a leg injury.
“We’re still managing Charlie’s return and he showed against Canterbury and Auckland earlier this season how effective he is coming off the bench because he covers a lot of areas,” Cooper said.
With the return to a five-forwards three-backs split in the reserves, either Fin Hoeata or Brad Tucker will drop out of the matchday squad to make way for Declan O’Donnell. A decision on who will provide the locking cover will be determined after the captain’s run today as players recover from a torrid battle against Canterbury. Kylem O’Donnell, now recovered from a hamstring injury, takes over the reserve halfback duties from Logan Crowley.
Reflecting on last Friday night’s remarkable 55-43 win against Canterbury in Christchurch to begin the amber and blacks’ sixth Ranfurly Shield tenure, Cooper said he was most proud of the composure shown by his side after they fell 24-0 and then 31-7 behind.
“We made a lot of mistakes in that first 25 minutes but we showed a lot of faith and trust in what we were doing and didn’t panic,” Cooper said.
“We had to treasure the ball and once we did that we were able to put pressure back on them. The team showed a lot of trust in each other and the leaders have to take a lot of credit for staying calm and keeping everyone focused.
“It was an honour to be able to bring the shield home in a week when Taranaki lost one of its Ranfurly Shield legends in Peter Burke.”
Cooper said the team were humbled by the huge reception they received at New Plymouth Airport and during the parade along Devon St on Saturday morning. Fans were also out in force at an open training at Yarrow Stadium yesterday.
“The fans have been amazing. They were tremendous coming out on Saturday at such quick notice and we really thank them for their support. We will need them again on Wednesday night – the boys get a real boost from crowd support and knowing the community is behind them.”
As well as the chance to lock up the shield for the summer, the Port Taranaki Bulls can also seal top spot in the Mitre 10 Cup should they score a bonus-point win against Manawatu. This will guarantee a home semifinal – and home final should they progress – even before the final-round match away to North Harbour on Sunday.
Cooper said with such a short turnaround to tomorrow night’s game, focused preparation was the key.
“The boys are pretty sore but they’re excited. We’ve got to make sure we can follow up that Canterbury match by trusting in ourselves, our jobs and having discipline. We’ve set a benchmark and have to rise to that occasion again, so it’s a great opportunity for us.”
Port Taranaki Bulls team to play Manawatu, at 7.35pm, Wednesday 11 October, at Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth: