The injury toll from Taranaki's disappointing loss to Wellington has forced coach Colin Cooper into some significant changes for tomorrow's national provincial championship semifinal showdown against Canterbury.
Out of contention for the match in Christchurch are flankers Kane Barrett (thigh) and Berny Hall (concussion), wing Frazier Climo (calf) and No 8 Blade Thomson (broken nose).
Cooper has reacted to the loss of the quartet by returning 47-game veteran Chris Walker to the side of the scrum, shifting lock James Broadhurst to the blindside, moving Jarrad Hoeata to No 8 and pushing James Marshall to fullback from the reserves bench.
New Blues wing Waisake Naholo has finally recovered from a high ankle sprain suffered in Taranaki's 43-32 loss to Auckland on September 19 and will start on one wing.
With three openside options - Scott Waldrom, Heiden Bedwell-Curtis and Hall - all out for the season, Cooper has called up 20-year-old Tukapa loose forward Adrian Wyrill into his 22-man squad for the first time.
There is also a recall for bruising lock Nemia Soqeta, who last played for the Taranaki development side when they completed their unbeaten season on September 15.
Soqeta looked in good shape, despite his lack of recent game time, as the players went through their last extended training before the semifinal, the first time Taranaki has been involved in the last-four playoffs since 2000.
There was plenty of close contact work yesterday, with the players showing little sympathy to the volunteers brave enough to pick up the crash pads and stand in their way.
The ferocity of the work left replacement wing Jackson Ormond with a rib problem. A decision on whether he can still wear the No 22 jersey will be made today.
As well as the rejigging of the forward pack, which includes the return of captain Craig Clarke after he was rested for 50 minutes against Wellington, there are some talking points in the backs chosen to run out on AMI Stadium.
Despite some obvious flaws to his game, Kurt Baker remains at centre, when most would have predicted a shift back to fullback or wing.
Veteran halfback Chris Smylie is retained in front of the more adventurous Jamison Gibson-Park, while Andre Taylor has again been asked to play out wide, when his best form has been at fullback in 2012.
The disruptions aside, Cooper was more than pleased at the way his side had picked up the bit and got into their work since the demoralising 33-17 loss to Wellington.
"It has been a good week, even with all the injuries, to be able to call on the players we have, it shows the depth we have," he said.
"Guys like Nemia have been training the house down waiting for an opportunity and he's got one now, so we're pretty lucky."
While Taranaki's loose forwards look to be lacking pace in comparison to their opposition, Cooper felt Broadhurst had enough experience in the position to make a good fist of it.
"We've also got an angry Chris Walker who will be out to prove a point that he should have been there in the last few games, while Hoeata is in good form," he said.
Walker might well be out to make a point or two, and many hope he will, but it will be interesting to see if he still has an edge to his play after being overlooked by his coach in favour of Barrett and Hall in recent weeks since the loss of Waldrom.
Canterbury coach Tabai Matson has also lost some key players, including two thirds of his potent loose forward trio after Nasi Manu and Matt Todd were, as expected, ruled out with knee injuries.
In fact, Matson's loose forward stocks have been battered to a point he has recalled loan player Jordan Taufua from Tasman to sit on the Canterbury bench.
The TAB saw the move as insignificant, opening Canterbury as $1.10 favourite with Taranaki a $6 chance, in its eyes.
- Taranaki Daily News
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