Taranaki keep focus on cup opener 11 August 2017


Friday, 11 August 2017


Taranaki keep focus on cup opener

They might be getting a rare crack at the All Blacks, but the Port Taranaki Bulls aren’t taking their eye off the big picture ahead of tonight’s Game of Three Halves at Pukekohe.

The concept will see Taranaki play a 40-minute half against Counties-Manukau followed by a 40-minute half against the All Blacks. Counties-Manukau and the All Blacks will then face off as all three teams warm up for their respective representative seasons.

The match will give coach Colin Cooper and assistant coach Willie Rickards the final chance to look at individuals and combinations ahead of the Port Taranaki Bulls’ opening match of the Mitre 10 Cup season against Waikato, at Yarrow Stadium on Saturday, 19 August.

“Everyone’s pretty excited about getting to play the All Blacks – it’s something different for the players and not many can put that on their resume,” Cooper said.

“But we’re not focusing on the result, it’s about getting clarity around our attacking and defensive plans, and looking at combinations and individuals to get ready for the Waikato game.”

The Port Taranaki Bulls have named a squad of 26 for tonight’s warm-up, and have the advantage of playing their 40-minute halves back-to-back, ensuring some continuity, despite the opposition being different.

“We will look to bring some players on for the second half, against the All Blacks, but I’m not sure if all will be involved. It will depend if there are injuries and whether some players could do with a run or rest,” Cooper said.

Although Taranaki was hit hard by injuries before the Mitre 10 Cup squad was announced, Cooper was pleased the side had come through last week’s 19-17 pre-season win against Bay of Plenty at Te Awamutu unscathed.

After starting against Bay of Plenty, loosehead prop Jared Proffit gets another chance to put his hand up for selection and will pack down alongside hooker Donald Maka and tighthead Mike Kainga.

With Leighton Price in the reserves, lock Leon Power will captain the side from the second row and partner Brad Tucker, who got his first taste of Taranaki rugby off the bench against BOP.

The Port Taranaki Bulls will boast a powerful back row of Pita-Gus Sowakula at No 6, Adrian Wyrill at openside flanker, and Toa Halifihi at No 8. Wyrill and Sowakula, who played No 8, impressed when they combined against BOP and will get another chance to press for selection.

In the battle for the starting halfback spot, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi gets his chance after Logan Crowley had first dibs last week, while Stephen Perofeta takes over at first five-eighth from Beaudein Waaka, who shifts to the wing.

Seta Tamanivalu, along with the All Blacks’ Super Rugby champion Crusaders players, is being rested, as is Charlie Ngatai, who has been training with the All Blacks and hasn’t had a break since the Super Rugby season ended. Johnny Fa’auli and Latu Vaeno take the midfield spots for tonight’s match.

Marty McKenzie shows his versatility by starting at fullback, and Declan O’Donnell, who impressed against BOP, gets another chance to shine on the right wing.

Experienced prop Angus Ta’avao makes his return to amber and black on an extended bench, which among others, includes Finn Hoeata, who can cover No 6 or lock, Sean Wainui, Tom Florence, wing Manasa Mataele, and Mitchell Graham, who returns to rugby after breaking his leg in February.

Cooper had a special word for rising All Black Jordie Barrett, who yesterday was ruled out for the rest of the season because of a serious shoulder injury that is likely to need surgery. Barrett signed with the Port Taranaki Bulls for two years, and it was hoped Taranaki fans would get to see him play for the All Blacks against Argentina at Yarrow Stadium on 9 September.

“It really is a shame. He’s been playing some fantastic rugby this year and has already played a lot of rugby at a high level for a young man. We wish him all the best in his recovery,” Cooper said.

Port Taranaki Bulls to play Counties-Manukau and All Blacks:

Marty McKenzie, Declan O’Donnell, Latu Vaeno, Johnny Fa’auli, Beaudein Waaka, Stephen Perofeta, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Toa Halifihi, Adrian Wyrill, Pita-Gus Sowakula, Leon Power (c), Brad Tucker, Mike Kainga, Donald Maka, Jared Proffit. Reserves: Sione Lea, Angus Ta’avao, Asaeli Sorovaki, Leighton Price, Finn Hoeata, Logan Crowley, Kylem O’Donnell, Sean Wainui, Tom Florence, Manasa Mataele, Mitchell Graham.