Taranaki can manage squad after Shield win
Expect a decidedly different Taranaki side to run out at Albany to face North Harbour on Sunday after they successfully locked up the Ranfurly Shield and top spot on the Mitre 10 Cup premiership table.
Wednesday night's 46-25 win over Manawatū means Taranaki can not be overtaken by second placed Canterbury and it could lead to coach Colin Cooper opting to rest a number of players who have clocked up some serious minutes in the first nine matches.
The fact they have won eight of those, including seven in a row, has been helped by the stability of selection and a lack of injuries but it was noticeable in their seven tries to three win over Manawatū that some were seriously starting to feel the pinch in the second half.
They were not helped by losing Manasa Mataele, Stephen Perofeta and Sean Wainui in the first half of the Shield challenge, watched on by close to 12,000 fans at Yarrow Stadium.
After the win Cooper said the coaching team would now take stock and plan the best approach to facing North Harbour given the pressure to finish top and guarantee home advantage through the play-offs was off.
He described the successful defence against Manawatū as a brawl.
"That's what the Shield brings, everyone brings the kitchen sink," he said. "With the short turnaround we had, I was quite proud of the players that they were able to stay in there and not give up in what was a really tough, physical game."
Taranaki looked in control of the match for the most part, especially near the end of the first half that produced two tries apiece to the outstanding Waisake Naholo and Seta Tamanivalu.
While Manawatū threatened a comeback in the second half, Taranaki finished the game strongly with late tries.
Cooper thought they were smart in the first half in the way they played territory into the wind and the way they managed things when they ran out of fresh backs.
"I still didn't feel comfortable the whole game," he admitted.
There was much to like in the overall performance from Taranaki as they backed up from the high of winning the Shield in Christchurch with a fairly energised performance from the outset.
Naholo, surely favoured to start in Brisbane for the All Blacks on October 21, was a constant threat along with Tamanivalu while the option taking around the breakdown was generally on the mark.
The tight five, now a settled group, gave their usual top drawer effort while the loose forward trio of Toa Halafihi, Lachlan Boshier and Pita Sowakula further enhanced their reputations.
Cooper had concerns pre-season about the loose forward mix given the loss of a stack of experienced players but he felt the current mix, along with Adrian Wyrill, had risen to the challenge.
Taranaki's squad to face North Harbour is expected to be named on Friday although there is a chance Cooper could wait until Saturday before finalising it.
Taranaki 46 (Seta Tamanivalu 2, Waisake Naholo 2, Charlie Ngatai, Kylem O'Donnell, Adrian Wyrill tries; Marty McKenzie 4 con, pen) Manawatū 25 (Jamie Booth, Curtis Ambrose, Jade Te Rure tries; Otere Black 2 pen, Te Rure 2 con). HT: 27-6.