Taranaki's pre-season campaign will take on extra significance after they were handed a tough start to the National Provincial Championship when the draw was released yesterday.
An away game to five-time defending champions Canterbury followed by a home match against Wellington, a side they nearly always lose to, will test what is expected to be a relatively inexperienced Taranaki side.
"It's a tough introduction to it," admitted coach Colin Cooper. "Pre-season will become very, very important. I will definitely want three games, but we have yet to confirm that. We will need time for the Super [Rugby] guys to come back and give the new guys some opportunities."
If Taranaki fans can take some hope ahead of their opening two matches, it will be Canterbury's tendency to start the competition poorly.
That was evidenced last season when they lost to Tasman. A third trip to Invercargill in as many years awaits Taranaki in round three before they face Auckland at Yarrow Stadium - their only Saturday afternoon match.
With the New Zealand Rugby Union adding a week to the NPC schedule, Taranaki has just one midweek fixture, against Hawke's Bay, before they head to Pukekohe four days later to front newly promoted Counties-Manukau.
Matches against Bay Of Plenty (home), Manawatu (away) and Tasman (home) follow before a possible crack at winning the Ranfurly Shield back off Waikato.
For that to happen the shield holders will have to see off challenges from Northland, Otago, Auckland and Wellington.
Not that the shield was top of Cooper's agenda.
"To be honest, I haven't really thought about the shield," he said. "It's really about getting the squad together, retaining and recruiting players and the shield is just a bonus. That's how I'll treat it."
TARANAKI'S NPC DRAW v Canterbury, Friday, August 16, 7.35pm, Christchurch v Wellington, Friday, August 23, 6.05pm, New Plymouth v Southland, Saturday, August 31, 7.35pm, Invercargill v Auckland, Saturday, September 7, 2.35pm, New Plymouth v Hawke's Bay, Wednesday, September 11, 7.35pm, New Plymouth v Counties-Manukau, Sunday, September 15, 2.35pm, Pukekohe v Bay of Plenty, Saturday, September 21, 7.35pm, New Plymouth v Manawatu, Saturday, September 28, 5.35pm, Palmerston North v Tasman, Sunday, October 6, 4.35pm, New Plymouth v Waikato, Saturday, October 12, 7.35pm, Hamilton
- © Fairfax NZ News
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