Wednesday, 4 October 2017
Port Taranaki Bulls to honour shield legend
The Port Taranaki Bulls will honour a legend of Taranaki Ranfurly Shield rugby when they battle Canterbury for the Log o’ Wood and vital premiership points in Christchurch on Friday night.
Former Taranaki captain Peter Burke, who died on Monday, led the Taranaki team through the famous Ranfurly Shield era of 1957-59 and was assistant coach when Taranaki held the shield for 15 defences from 1963-65.
At AMI Stadium on Friday, when the top two teams in the Mitre 10 Cup competition meet with the shield on the line, the Port Taranaki Bulls will wear black armbands to honour Burke’s contribution to Taranaki and New Zealand rugby.
“Peter made a huge impact and had great influence on rugby,” Port Taranaki Bulls coach Colin Cooper said. “He brought a lot of success to Taranaki rugby for a long time and made an important contribution to the game nationally, so we want to honour his memory by putting in a good performance against Canterbury and hopefully getting a win.”
Talk of the Ranfurly Shield has been minimal this week, with the team’s focus on continuing to play well to secure a home semifinal, having now achieved their first goal of the season – a playoff spot – with the 40-26 win over Tasman last week.
“At the start of the season our goal was to earn a semifinal, which we’ve done. So now our aim is to secure a home finals spot, which is really important for our fans and the union,” Cooper said.
“If we play well against Canterbury and get a win, the shield will be a fantastic bonus – hopefully we can achieve both.”
Impressed by the way the team have improved in recent wins over Hawke’s Bay and Tasman, Cooper and assistant coach Willie Rickards have made only one injury-enforced change to the starting 15.
Midfielder Johnny Fa’auli has been ruled out with a leg injury, meaning there is a shuffle in the backline. Manasa Mataele comes into the side on the left wing, Seta Tamanivalu moves to centre from the wing, and Sean Wainui shifts to second five-eighth from centre.
“The side have been improving each game,” Cooper said. “Our set piece has been giving us better go-forward ball, which has enabled us to play the way we’ve been wanting to play – finding space for our backs.”
In a welcome inclusion on the bench, regular captain Charlie Ngatai returns having recovered from the head knock suffered against Bay of Plenty last month.
“Charlie has been cleared and is ready to play,” Cooper said. “Because he hasn’t played at this intensity level for a few weeks, we are managing him and he will get time off the bench.”
There is a six-forwards two-backs split on the bench, with the Port Taranaki Bulls expecting a tough battle up front against Canterbury. The match is also the first of three games in nine days for Taranaki leading up to the playoffs.
“Canterbury are always a very strong team and we expect it will be a big forward battle,” Cooper said. “We’re also going into the ‘storm’ week, so it’s trying to manage players and trying to keep everyone fresh for what’s ahead.”
Aside from the return of Ngatai, elsewhere on the bench prop Reuben O’Neill comes in for Jared Proffit, who has an injury, and lock Brad Tucker comes back into the team after missing the past two games. Because of the makeup of the reserves, first five-eighth Ciarahn Matoe drops out of the matchday side.
The Port Taranaki Bulls’ last Ranfurly Shield challenge was against Waikato in Hamilton last year. In a thrilling match, Waikato hung on to the shield thanks to a 20-20 draw.
Port Taranaki Bulls team to play Canterbury, at 7.35pm, Friday 6 October, at AMI Stadium, Christchurch