Taranaki rugby side's plan for NPC pre-season

GLENN MCLEAN
Last updated 05:00 20/06/2014

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Taranaki will play three pre-season games, including matches at Stratford and Tikorangi, ahead of their national provincial championship season.

The schedule is in stark contrast to last year when the side were not sighted until the NPC started.

The Stratford club's 125th jubilee might have already been celebrated but there will be another event to mark the anniversary when Hawke's Bay play Taranaki on Saturday, July 26, at 2.30pm.

Coach Colin Cooper will then take his squad north to play Waikato at Otorohanga the following Saturday before their pre-season campaign winds up against Auckland on Thursday, August 7, at Tikorangi. Auckland have booked the Clifton club's training facility in the days leading up to the match.

Cooper will then have a week to prepare for Taranaki's first NPC match against Counties Manukau at Yarrow Stadium.

Meanwhile, the Taranaki development side's schedule is all but finalised.

In a massive change to last season, when the development side played once in Taranaki, they will have five of their eight matches within the province, including three in the northern regions competition. "It's certainly a good competition now," development coach Kelvin McDowell said. "The players really enjoyed it last year but they will enjoy it more now we've got some home games."

Given the majority of the Taranaki NPC squad come from outside the premier club competition, the development side offers the best club players an opportunity to perform at a representative level.

"It's going to be a good test for some young guys to see if they have the potential to go further," McDowell said.

He cited Spotswood United No 8 Iopu Iopu, as an example. He excelled in the development side last year and has earned a Taranaki contract after continuing that form at club level.

Coastal coach Joe Lawn will continue his role as McDowell's assistant.

Depending on the size of the Taranaki NPC squad, the pair will select a squad of 26 for the development campaign, which kicks off with a match against King Country at Tikorangi on Saturday, August 2.

"We usually have a feeder of three or four players from the A team, so I'll wait until their squad is named before we finalise ours and see what positions they have a lot of numbers in," McDowell said.

"We'll maybe take a couple less in those areas because we don't want guys training hard and then not getting opportunities."

McDowell is due to give up his role as assistant coach at Tukapa and will concentrate on looking at players he wants for his squad.

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He has been reasonably impressed with the scope of talent he would have at his disposal.

"I think there is a good mixture of players there and there are some exciting prospects. I think we can play a good style of game and we can continue to be an attacking side."

- Taranaki Daily News

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