A likely Taranaki forward pack is starting to take shape ahead of next week's national provincial championship opener against Bay Of Plenty.
Tenderlink Taranaki coach Colin Cooper has named close to his best available pack for tomorrow's last pre-season match with Counties-Manukau at Otorohanga.
There is just one change to the pack that started against Waikato last week with prop Michael Bent coming in for Willie Iaone.
"It will be good to give this combination another crack and we want to see how that goes," Cooper said.
"It's good to have another game to be able to confirm things," he said.
New signing Chris King will start from the bench and could yet get a start in the ITM Cup opener, depending on how Carl Carmichael performs tomorrow.
Cooper was awaiting scan results on hooker Laurence Corlett's injured knee and said it was not worth risking him tomorrow, looking ahead to Bay Of Plenty, while former All Black Scott Waldrom could still come in for the match after he has seen out his annual leave following the Chiefs' Super Rugby success.
Another former All Black, Jarrad Hoeata, keeps his place at the back of the scrum, allowing the impressive Kane Barrett to remain in the No 6 jersey.
The forgotten man of the Taranaki pack, former New Zealand under-20 rep Blade Thomson, is finally over a back injury that has sidelined him for weeks and has been named in the reserves.
The backline is more intriguing.
In-form wingers Waisake Naholo and Frazier Climo have been ill this week and will come off the bench against Counties-Manukau, who are in the ITM Cup championship, with Andre Taylor starting on the wing and Kurt Baker being shifted from centre to fullback.
That gives Willie Rickards a chance to stake his claim at centre after an eye-catching performance off the bench against Waikato.
All Blacks first five-eighth Beauden Barrett returns to start along with halfback Jamison Gibson-Park. Last week's starting halfback, Kylem O'Donnell, spent the early part of the week away with the New Zealand sevens training squad.
Cooper said new recruit Chris Smylie would receive a clearance from his specialist on his shoulder injury after the Bay Of Plenty match, meaning next week's starting spot will go to either Gibson-Park or O'Donnell.
Both have contrasting styles and just who gets the nod could depend on who performs best in Otorohanga.
The Taranaki squad spent the first part of the week "in camp" where they were joined by motivation specialist and clinical psychologist David Galbraith, someone Cooper has used in the lead-up to the past two ITM Cup campaigns.
Counties-Manukau coach Tana Umaga will name his side today after they played on Wednesday, beating Waikato 31-17 after leading 26-0 at halftime.
TARANAKI: Kurt Baker, Andre Taylor, Willie Rickards, Jayden Hayward, Jackson Ormond, Beauden Barrett, Jamison Gibson-Park, Jarrad Hoeata, Chris Walker, Kane Barrett, Jason Eaton (captain), James Broadhurst, Michael Bent, Timo Tutavaha, Carl Carmichael. Reserves, Sione Lea, Willie Ioane, Chris King, Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, Blade Thomson, Kylem O'Donnell, Waisake Naholo, Frazier Climo, James Marshall, Jack Cameron.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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