Whether it was a bit of pre-match banter or a genuine slap on the back, Auckland coach Wayne Pivac gave Taranaki a massive compliment yesterday - comparing them to the great Auckland and Canterbury Ranfurly Shield teams.
Speaking ahead of tomorrow night's NPC match at Eden Park, Pivac said his young side would have to be mentally tough to tackle the Shield holders.
"It reminds me of Auckland and Canterbury teams of old who have the ability to carry the Ranfurly Shield and perform in games when the Shield's not at stake," he said.
"We expect them to play like they performed last Saturday, which means they'll be very strong up front, and with a backline that complements that forward pack.”
After admitting to a bad case of mental fragility in Rotorua on Friday night, Auckland - thrashed 37-16 by the Steamers - are pledging a turnaround.
Pivac announced a starting XV containing three changes. Prop Angus Ta'avao, lock Andrew van der Heijden and wing Dave Thomas are the new faces. Veteran flanker Daniel Braid also returns, via the bench.
“It's the team that shows up on the day,” experienced Auckland halfback Alby Mathewson said as he reflected on that off night in Rotorua.
“Being a young side we should be enthusiastic with guys wanting to push on for higher honours. But we just didn't front up.
“We just mentally weren't there, and when you're mentally not there you get physically dominated.
“It's something we've talked about needing to fix this week. If we come out half-hearted against Taranaki we're going to get dealt to.”
Mathewson has been impressed by what he's seen from Taranaki this season.
“They've got a big, physical, experienced forward pack, and classy backs with plenty of experience.
"They're a well-rounded team and they're up there at the top of the table for a reason.
“They don't have hangovers from their Shield defences - they come out firing every game. And they've got a lot of depth in their squad, so any changes they do make those guys just add to the team.”
AUCKLAND: Charles Piutau, Dave Thomas, Malakai Fekitoa, Hadleigh Parkes (capt), George Moala, Gareth Anscombe, Alby Mathewson; Peter Saili, Sean Polwart, Steven Luatua, Liaki Moli, Andrew van der Heijden, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Tom McCartney, Angus Ta'avao. Reserves: Nathan Vella, Pauliasi Manu, Nathan Hughes, Daniel Braid, Auvasa Faleali'i, Simon Hickey, Ben Lam.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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