'Pups' get chance to join Taranaki forwards
They might remind Colin Cooper of a "group of pups" but the veteran coach wants to see plenty from his young players when they take on Counties-Manukau this afternoon.
While the majority of the players who will make the trip to Otorohanga have been working under Cooper's eye for several months, this week has been the first time the starting XV has run together in preparation for a match.
"They reminded me of a group of pups who have just been let out for their first run around," Cooper said yesterday. "There was a bit of structure but there is a lot of energy, which is great."
With all of Taranaki's Super Rugby players still on leave or, in Chiefs hooker Rhys Marshall's case, still playing, now is the hour for the next tier to prove they can make the step up when the National Provincial Championship kicks off in three weeks.
Today's opposition provided plenty of problems for Taranaki 12 months ago when they met at the same venue and Cooper was hoping for more of the same today.
"They made us look at a whole lot of things," Cooper said. "They are well coached and they are a group who are free spirited players who Tana [Umaga] has got together and formed some structure."
Counties will also provide Taranaki with a physical examination, even without a host of their Super Rugby players.
That's exactly what a number of the young men up front require, especially those who have not been at the coal face of club rugby playoffs, while Taranaki's backline will quickly learn how much concentration is needed on attack and defence.
With a host of senior men moving on from 2012, there is plenty of competition for places, not only in the NPC squad but for starting spots.
Cooper and assistant Leo Crowley have been joined in the coaching staff by the union's development manager, Jono Phillips, for the NPC and the trio have deliberately not overloaded today's squad with too much content to digest.
"That will make them just play and hopefully impress us enough to say they should be carrying on with us and even challenge the Super players who are coming back," Cooper said.
He will be particularly looking at how individuals defend, how they go into contact, how evasive they are and who adjusts best to the systems the coaches want to introduce in 2013.
Cooper has made no secret of the fact he wants to tweak Taranaki's style of play, which will challenge the players to think faster on their feet and bring more all-round skill to their game.
It will be interesting to see whether many of this group can adjust. The positions under the most scrutiny from Cooper will be first five-eighth, the midfield and the loose forward mix.
"Rick McKenna gets the first crack at 10 because we thought he played really well in the club competition . . . when Coastal went well, it was usually when he was going well.
"[Daniel] Brooks will get a go and so will Beaudein [Waaka]. We will pull a lot out of this game and winning and losing is not important."
HOW THEY LINE UP
TARANAKI v COUNTIES-MANUKAU 2pm, today, Otorohanga
TARANAKI: Daniel Brooks, Seta Tamanivalu, Jackson Ormond, Pomare Samupo, Avon Lewis, Rick McKenna, Junior Paparoa, Mitchell Crosswell, Berny Hall, Iopu Iopu, Leighton Price, Mitchell Brown, Shane Cleaver, Timo Tutavaha (captain), Sione Lea. Reserves: Abe Haira, Ryan Cocker, Bryn Hudson, Adrian Wyrill, Beaudein Waaka, Caleb Kahupukoro, Telly Hemopo, Eddie Uele, Baxter King, Toa Halafihi. Coach, Colin Cooper.
COUNTIES-MANUKAU: Sherwin Stowers, Sione Molia, Ethan James, Ahsee Tuala, Tony Pulu, Ki Anufe, Kane Hancy, Bruce Kanio, Sean Reidy, Adam Cathcart, Asaeli Lehauli, Ryan Wilson, Sam Aiono, Michael Lea, Simon Lemalu. Reserves: Jamie Baker, Sione Faletau, Filimoni Tufui, Matitaha Martin, Lucky Palamo, Toetu David, John Luteru, Seluini Molia, Johnny Kawau, Josh Stohl, Reece Joyce. Coach, Tana Umaga