Taranaki minimise change for Southland match
Back-to-back wins have delivered some stability in selection for Taranaki as they prepare to face Southland in their NPC cross-over match tomorrow.
Taranaki coach Colin Cooper has made just one change to the backline which ran amok in their comfortable 41-3 win over Bay of Plenty on Sunday, with halfback Jamison Gibson-Park recovering from a slight calf strain to replace Chris Smylie.
There is also a settled look to the pack, the exception being at blindside flanker where Iopu Iopu-Aso has recovered from a shoulder injury which has prevented him from playing for the best part of a month.
His inclusion sees Riki Hoeata shifted back into the second row in place of Leighton Price, who has been put on ice for Thursday's match against Tasman at Nelson.
There has also been a bit of a reshuffle on the bench where Mitchell Brown comes in after also spending several weeks on the sideline with a thumb injury, while Sione Lea returns and will cover hooker with Timo Tutavaha still out with concussion.
Kurt Baker has also been given the clearance after a long lay-off following a torn hamstring.
The big news out of the Taranaki camp was No 8 Blade Thomson running relatively freely at training yesterday, just four days after he was helped off the field with what appeared a serious knee injury.
A taste of spring and the fact that just about everyone in the squad was fit combined to bring a real buzz at training after what had been a hectic time less than a week earlier.
''It's just so much easier when you have almost a whole squad to pick from,'' Taranaki assistant coach Leo Crowley said.
''It's giving Southland the respect they deserve because they have got the best [No] 10 and 12 we've come up against by a long shot and their forwards are big, tough guys who play an excellent brand of rugby.''
Crowley said there had been no set plan associated with how long they hoped to give Baker off the bench.
''We'll just see how the game is going because the 15 on the field have to get out there and do a job. We're not worried at all about the guys on the bench in respect to the fact we just have to win this game.''
Crowley had no concerns about starting Iopu-Aso, given his lack of game time.
''No, he has a high level of fitness and his shoulder is A-OK.''
Southland will name their side today.
HOW THEY LINE UP
TARANAKI: James Marshall, Codey Rei, Seta Tamanivalu, Charlie Ngatai, Waisake Naholo, Marty McKenzie, Jamison Gibson-Park, Blade Thomson, Berny Hall, Iopu Iopu-Aso, James Broadhurst, Riki Hoeata, Angus Ta'avao, Rhys Marshall, Mitchell Graham. Reserves, Sione Lea, Ryan Cocker, Mitchell Brown, Doug Tietjens, Chris Smylie, Jackson Ormond, Kurt Baker.
Taranaki Daily News