Taranaki unchanged for Hawke's Bay challenge

GLENN MCLEAN
Last updated 05:00 21/08/2014
Toa Halafihi
ROBERT CHARLES/Fairfax NZ
ONLY CHANGE: Toa Halafihi comes on to the reserves bench for Taranaki.

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For the first time in 40 first class matches Taranaki will field the same starting XV for two games in a row.

On a rare occasion when injuries have not cut into the options available, Taranaki coach Colin Cooper has grabbed hold of the chance to send the same men who ground out a 9-9 draw against Counties Manukau forward again to face Hawke's Bay tomorrow night at Napier.

It is a luxury he has not enjoyed since September 18, 2010, when Taranaki fronted for the union's 125th jubilee match against Canterbury.

The only change for the playing squad comes on the bench where Toa Halafihi comes in for Leighton Price in a broad hint the second rower will be asked to front for 80 minutes on Wednesday against Waikato.

"It gives us a bit better balance off the bench as well," Tenderlink Taranaki assistant coach Leo Crowley said. "That means Blade [Thomson] will give us cover at lock."

No matter how they try and put the issue to one side and concentrate on Hawke's Bay, the fact they have three games in 10 days will have an influence on the tight five selections, especially.

"They are going to struggle to get 80 minutes in every game, so matter how you look at it, it gives us better balance and puts Leighton on ice for Waikato."

There was no temptation to make changes, with the coaching staff reasonably happy with the way the starting side fronted against Counties Manukau.

"At the end of the day we put what we thought was our strongest side out against Counties. While we feel we didn't really fire a shot in a lot of ways, even though we competed really well, we didn't quite nail it, so why wouldn't we put the same side out and try and do that?"

Given their "best" side had limited time together leading up to the National Provincial Championship opener, giving the players the opportunity to continue to find an understanding of how the men around them play was also preferable.

The eight-day break between Counties Manukau and Hawke's Bay was also proving more than useful, with the players reaching the clarity levels Cooper and Crowley were hoping for around the game plan.

Working on improving the team's on-field communication had been a priority over the past six days, while improving the lineout was another strong work-on.

"Deep down we still feel we didn't fire a shot and show our attacking game but our forwards competed really well and showed some really good signs. If we can improve our communication and display a bit more strike power, we will improve."

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Several players were not considered for selection, including halfback Chris Smylie, who looks just days away from being fit enough following a hamstring injury, while Kurt Baker (hamstring) and Ryan Cocker (concussion) might also be close to returning to the fold.

TARANAKI: Codey Rei, Seta Tamanivalu, Charlie Ngatai, James Marshall (captain), Waisake Naholo, Marty McKenzie, Jamison Gibson-Park, Blade Thomson, Berny Hall, Mitchell Crosswell, James Broadhurst, Riki Hoeata, Angus Ta'avao, Rhys Marshall, Mitchell Graham. Reserves: Timo Tutavaha, Sione Lea, Toa Halafihi, Doug Tietjens, Warwick Lahmert, Jackson Ormond, Beaudein Waaka

- Taranaki Daily News

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