The impact of the Chiefs playing in New Plymouth tomorrow will be felt across club rugby this weekend, with premier matches spread over three days.
Things kick off tonight when Coastal host Southern under lights at Rahotu before Clifton welcome New Plymouth Old Boys to Tikorangi and Tukapa trek to Stratford tomorrow afternoon.
The weekend's action ends at Yarrow Stadium on Sunday afternoon, with Spotswood United at home to Inglewood.
With just four points separating the top six sides, each coach will know the importance of maintaining their momentum, or in Coastal's case, regathering it after they lost 18-10 to Inglewood last week.
It was a loss which seemed almost unimaginable at halftime when Coastal took a 7-6 lead into the halftime team talk, despite playing into a howling gale.
A couple of yellow cards and some average option taking and execution meant a frustrated Coastal left the TET Stadium without any competition points.
The short turnaround has also not really helped them either, with coach Joe Lawn still not clear about who exactly will be running out tonight.
"We've got a fair few question marks to answer before training tonight," he said yesterday. Those question marks centre around Mitch Campbell, Thys Van Der Poel and Hamish Lawn, who are nursing injuries, while Bryn Hudson is awaiting the birth of a child.
The short turnaround might not have worked in Coastal's favour, although Lawn was happy to make the sacrifice and play a night game than have virtually no- one at the game because they were off to watch the Chiefs play the Waratahs. On the field, the coach was hoping his side could brush off a mini slump in form after they dominated six of the first seven weeks of the competition.
"We know we're not performing well at the moment and we've got a long way to step up to the mark where we want to be. We've fallen into some bad old habits."
Lawn knows Southern, whose performance against Tukapa last week impressed him, were very much in the last chance saloon and would come out and play accordingly.
"They've got a team which should be travelling a hell of a lot better than they are."
That will probably be of little comfort to Southern coach Jason Skipper, who was hoping his side can finally turn a string of narrow losses into some victories.
Despite putting up just one win in the first round, Skipper said the defending champions were on a bit of high, even taking into account last week's 30-24 loss.
"The boys are all still really positive, which is always good. It's the same old things with us, one or two mistakes and we let teams back in to the game."
After eight weeks, those mistakes might finally be minimised, while the return of New Zealand Under-20 trialist Lewis Ormond from injury will make the Southern backline more dangerous.
As always, Skipper was expecting an extremely physical confrontation up front, despite his pack still being a bit bruised from six days ago.
He was also having to give some advice to his young players who had never played under lights before.
"We've spoken a lot also about how to prepare for a Friday night game because it is totally different," he said.
Kickoff at Rahotu is 7.30pm.
Elsewhere, Clifton coach Ian Snook was hoping playmaker Marty McKenzie had recovered from a bout of the flu to take his place in what was a crucial game if they are going to fulfil their top-four ambitions.
Old Boys have leaped to the top of the table and appear to be playing with plenty of confidence.
Tukapa should solidify a top four space when they travel to Stratford, while the match on Sunday has the potential to be the game of the round, with Inglewood only two points above Spotswood United on the table.
- Taranaki Daily News
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