Auckland face big task from unbeaten Taranaki
Auckland rugby coach Wayne Pivac has no doubts about the extent of the challenge confronting his men at Eden Park on Wednesday in the form of the unbeaten Ranfurly Shield-holding Taranaki side.
Pivac even went as far today as to compare the men from the 'Naki with the great Shield sides from Auckland and Canterbury in previous eras, suggesting the Log o' Wood was bringing out an intimdating consistency of performance from the holders who have won all four games so far this season.
Taranaki brushed aside the challenge from Canterbury in New Plymouth on Saturday, grinding out an 18-9 victory in wintry conditions that puts them now just two games away from tucking the Log away for the summer.
"It reminds me of Auckland and Canterbury teams of old who have the ability to carry the Ranfurly Shield and perform in games when the shield's not at stake," said Pivac today after naming his side for the round seven clash.
"We're under no illusions it's going to be an easy game at all. We expect them to play like they performed last Saturday, which means they'll be very strong up front, they've got a tearaway there in the very classy Waldrom on the side of the scrum and a backline that complements that forward pack.
"They're a very committed side, a very experienced side and they'll probably see us as group of young guys they'll want to get stuck into. Hopefully we'll be prepared for that."
Pivac today made three changes to his starting XV humbled 37-16 by Bay of Plenty in Rotorua on Friday night.
Angus Ta'avao returns at loosehead prop with Pauliasi Manu dropping to the bench, a fit-again Andrew van der Heijden replaces Sean Brookman in the second row while Dave Thomas gets the start on the wing as Ben Lam rides the pine.
There is also a much needed return via bench duty for veteran flanker Daniel Braid who has missed the last four games with a groin injury.
"Both Dan and Andrew [van der Heijden] bring a lot of experience, and are part of our leadership group, so it's good having them back," said Pivac.
There is no sign, though, of All Black prop Charlie Faumuina who has been used sparingly through the Rugby Championship. Beauden Barrett is expected to be released to play for Taranaki in the match.
The message had been clearly spelt out that Auckland (3-2, 14pts) would need a big improvement in this match if they are to stay in the semifinal mix in the Premiership.
"We'd been talking about what's been happening to other teams and it happened to us," said PIvac. "It's not unexpected, but certainly we're disappointed it did happen to us. We went there with a lot of expectation and certainly didn't deliver on the night.
"We've had a good review and debrief of the game and I think the guys are pretty disappointed in their own performance and as individuals they'll improve. We need to because Taranaki are a very, very good side."
Kickoff on Wednesday is at 7.35pm.
AUCKLAND: Charles Piutau, Dave Thomas, Malakai Fekitoa, Hadleigh Parkes (capt), George Moala, Gareth Anscombe, Alby Mathewson; Peter Saili, Sean Polwart, Steven Luatua, Liaki Moli, Andrew van der Heijden, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Tom McCartney, Angus Ta'avao. Reserves: Nathan Vella, Pauliasi Manu, Nathan Hughes, Daniel Braid, Auvasa Faleali'i, Simon Hickey, Ben Lam.
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