Rugby World Cup
Counties Manukau coach Tana Umaga hopes his side will give the All Blacks a valuable workout on Friday night, while he has given his support for Sonny Bill Williams to remain in the national team for the next two tests.
The All Blacks will play for 20 minutes against the Steelers in Pukekohe and follow this up with 20 minutes against Auckland, with the plan being to give some match practice to those players whose Super Rugby campaigns ended a few weeks ago.
Umaga says it will be a special occasion at ECOlight Stadium and one that his players will cherish.
“We're looking to get a few memories for the players to take home and talk to their kids about,” Umaga said.
“Primarily though, it's a hit out for the All Blacks and our role is to help them prepare for their tests.
“We've got another 40-60 minutes with Auckland after and our focuses are that we help the All Blacks out and that none of us get injured, because we've got bigger fish to fry later on.
“But what it can bring to our players and community is huge and I'm sure it's going to create a stir. I hope we get a good crowd and that crowd keeps coming back, because that's what we want behind us.
“The hardest thing to decide is who to put up against the All Blacks,” he said.
“We want to make a good fist of it, we don't want it to turn into a touch game for the All Blacks, so we'll make sure we deliver what we have to.”
Most of the All Blacks should get a run in the two games, but Umaga won't get to coach against his good friend Williams as the Chiefs players will be given time to rest.
It has irked some that Williams will play in the two tests against Australia before heading to Japan, but Umaga says it's the right call to select him while Conrad Smith recovers from his eye operation.
“Conrad is injured and he's [Williams] the best No 12 playing at the moment,' Umaga said. “Although people aren't happy that he won't be here for much longer, there are two tests to win and he can play in those before Conrad comes back.
“Sometimes people's morals can come into things, but in the end we just want to win games. If things didn't go right in these tests, the first thing people would ask is why didn't they pick him.”
Auckland coach Wayne Pivac is also looking forward to the game, which initially was just going to be a preseason fixture between the two provinces.
“I got a phone call from Foxy [selector Grant Fox] on behalf of Steve [Hansen] to see if they could gatecrash the party, Pivac said.
“From our point of view, this is a great opportunity for the young guys and they're all excited.
“The first game of the season is about trialling patterns of play and what better opposition could you have to try a few things and see how they go?
“It will be good for the young guys to get in front of the All Blacks selectors. They will be watching their own team, but this is still a great opportunity.”
Umaga and Pivac were both speaking yesterday at the launch for the new ITM Cup season, which starts on August 23.
While there will be midweek games again this year, there are law changes which will be trialled. These include a five-second time limit on playing the ball once it is available at the back of a ruck, a 90-second time limit on when conversions must be completed from the moment a try has been scored and the option for a team that's been given a penalty at a lineout to call for another one, as well as the scrum or kicking options.
The changes also include a new scrum engagement call which will see referees call "crouch, touch, set."