The big guns are on the bench for Taranaki's first Ranfurly Shield defence of the season against King Country in Inglewood tomorrow.
Super Rugby players Michael Bent, Jarrad Hoeata, Jayden Hayward and Kurt Baker have been kept in reserve by Taranaki coach Colin Cooper for the season opener.
Cooper said he had always been planning on not having his Super Rugby players for the Shield games against King Country and Wanganui on Saturday, August 4, and he had been preparing for the match without them.
With that in mind, Cooper has rewarded a number of younger players for strong club seasons.
"This is an opportunity to have a look at some of these boys for the future. There's experience around them and more experience on the bench to back them up," he said.
"It's a big chance for them to show us [the coaching panel] and everyone else what they are capable of. There's plenty of incentive there for all the players to perform."
The spotlight will be on the new-look loose forward trio of Kane Barrett, Heiden Bedwell-Curtis and Mitchell Brown.
"They complement each other well. Mitchell is only a young guy but he's skilful, can step and he's quite tough. He's one of our academy boys . . . I played him against Russia two years ago," Cooper said. "Heiden captained Inglewood this year and he understands the game really well. He's got bigger, he's about 105 kilograms and he works hard. I really want him to play the sevens role, working defensively with 10 and eight. And Kane, he's come back bigger and stronger. He's 112kg and very physical."
Cooper said young Inglewood winger Avon Lewis deserved his starting spot.
"It's a big reward for playing consistently in club rugby."
Seven players will be playing their first games for Taranaki.
Five of the seven are in the starting XV - Bedwell-Curtis, Brown, Lewis, lock Leighton Price and fullback James Marshall.
The other two - loose forward Berny Hall and halfback Jamison Gibson-Park - are in the reserves.
Price, who has played ITM Cup for Hawke's Bay and Bay of Plenty, gets his chance to impress packing down with Nemia Soqeta, who played his 20th and last game for Taranaki in 2009 before heading overseas.
Marshall, who was with the Hurricanes wider training group and played for the Hurricanes against the Reds during the mid-season break, has been named at fullback instead of first five-eighth with Frazier Climo and Jackson Ormond not considered.
Others not considered for the Inglewood match because of illness or injury were flanker Chris Walker, loose forward Blade Thomson and prop Sione Lea.
The teams for the first Ranfurly Shield match of the year at 2.05pm in Inglewood tomorrow are:
Taranaki: James Marshall, Waisake Naholo, Willie Rickards (captain), Isaia Tuifua, Avon Lewis, Jack Cameron, Kylem O'Donnell, Mitchell Brown, Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, Kane Barrett, Leighton Price, Nemia Soqeta, Willie Ioane, Timo Tutavaha, Carl Carmichael. Reserves, Laurence Corlett, Michael Bent, Jarrad Hoeata, Berny Hall, Jamison Gibson-Park, Jayden Hayward, Kurt Baker.
King Country: Kurt Strachan, Semeli Koniferedi, Luke Draper, Tanner Vili, Paul Olsen, Sean Cressy, Himona Knowles, Beau Taylor (captain), Hamish Alabaster, Jimi Hona, Kurt Houghton, Carl Alcock, Brian Mansfield, Nick Rule, James Ritchie. Reserves, Sam Holder, Dion Adams, Jake Hiriaki, Rob Sherson, Ben Draper, Jamie Maarhuis, Dean Church
- © Fairfax NZ News
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