OPINION: Winning teams are "fresh" teams.
If Taranaki are able to continue on their winning way on Saturday against Canterbury they could complete a dramatic season as Ranfurly Shield holders and ITM Cup finalists. If that doesn't get their blood pumped, then nothing will.
Three games in nine days is being touted around the country as too tough, but with many of the key players having had their share of rest time, the whole squad will be fizzing to get on the paddock and create a piece of history. Imagine that – Ranfurly Shield holders and ITM champions. It can't get any better!
Canterbury look vulnerable, stacked with fresh faces and already knowing the feeling of being beaten at home. This game is the time for Colin Cooper and Leo Crowley to follow Robbie Deans' novel idea against the South Africans last weekend of picking his strongest side and keeping most of them on the field for the duration. Now there's a thought.
Replacement players are for injuries; for making a positive difference; and for fixing a problem. Let's not open the door with 20 minutes left. Take one step at a time.
The Tasman game highlighted a few crucial aspects in relation to having success in the three tough games ahead.
Firstly, Scott Waldron is a must to have on the field. His form for the Chiefs before his injury and his current influence for Taranaki means he is the No1 priority to be playing as many minutes as necessary.
Secondly, Craig Clarke is providing the glue both in the tight and as a leader and he must be on the field for the important aspects. Jason Eaton is also enjoying a return to form which means James Broadhurst can be used as an impact player if required, which requires a short but explosive performance from him.
These players must lead the way in the next two games by dominating in the physical areas and creating problems for the Cantabs at lineout time. If they set the platform and outfox and outmuscle their opposites, two wins are well on the cards.
It appears that Kurt Baker and Andre Taylor may not be fully fit for one reason or another, but having them on the field as often as possible is crucial to the tryscoring potential of the side, so hopefully the week off will see them well rested and pumped to go.
Beating Southland after Canterbury will take a mammoth effort from all players, but the physical battle will need to be won as Southland have shown on many occasions that they are more than ready for any trench warfare that occurs.
Any backward step will be pounced upon with relish and ferocity.
Taranaki have several days in Invercargill to relax and make a plan.
They just need to be careful that the Southland hospitality doesn't lull them in to a sense of playing against a friendly group.
This is just a cunning plan carried out against many a touring team and cricket teams that spend more than a night in the deep south. It has worked before! Don't eat too many oysters boys.
Whatever happens – and goodness knows what will occur with so much indifferent refereeing and assistant refereeing in vogue – the public will be looking for performances of determination, intensity and character.
It's not a big ask, but will provide a ton of pleasure. Let's do it.
Ian Snook has coached professionally for the past 25 years in New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, England, Ireland, Japan and Italy.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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