Makos mix it up for Counties
The Tasman rugby selectors have balanced a desire to maintain their winning momentum with a need to rest several key players before the Mitre 10 Cup semifinals.
The Makos team, which will tackle Counties Manukau on Saturday evening in Pukekohe, is much-changed from the side which tipped over Auckland in Nelson on Sunday.
Into the starting line-up for the final round comes Tasman B winger Tomas Aoake, on debut, with Tima Faingaanuku shifting to fullback in place of young fullback Will Jordan who gets a welldeserved break. Jordan’s pace and nose for the tryline have become a feature of the Makos’ attack in recent weeks and will be key come play-off time.
Alex Nankivell, on the injury list last week, returns to the midfield for Saturday, pushing the imposing Levi Aumua to the left wing. Regular first five Mitch Hunt has been left out of the squad, a chance to rest some injury
niggles, with Tim O’Malley earning his second start of the season.
Once again O’Malley will be paired with Finlay Christie, first choice No 9 Billy Guyton back on the bench after turning in an inspirational effort in his 50th match on Sunday.
Pete Samu, a late withdrawal from the previous side has been chosen to start at No 8, replacing the reliable Jordan Taufua, who
has shouldered a massive workload this season. Taufua misses the opportunity to play against his previous team, having turned out for the Steelers from 2014 until 2016, but is given the chance to shake off some minor injuries. Vernon Fredericks and Ethan Blackadder, both outstanding against Auckland, complete the loose forward unit.
Skipper and lock Alex Ainley steps back into the starting line-up, with the increasingly-impressive Shannon Frizell getting the weekend off. Up front, Ti’i Paulo comes in for hooker Andrew Makalio, who is nursing a leg injury.
The Tasman bench is a mix of experience and youth. Gnarly prop Siua Halanukonuka and Guyton provide the big match maturity, while four of the other reserves are set to make their Makos’ debut if they enter the fray.
Prop Ryan Coxon, a member of the World Cup-winning 2017 NZ under-20 team, has yet to be called on this year so will be keen to show his wares at NPC level.
Underlining the Makos’ youth policy is the fact three members of the union’s under-19 team will sit on the bench in Pukekohe. Samiuela Moli, a standout for the Marlborough Boys’ College First XV in 2014-15, will cover the hooking role, offering energy and a wide range of skills. Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta is a dynamic loose forward who has impressed at a lower level all season while midfielder Rupena Parkinson, the Tasman under-19 captain, is given his chance to step up.
Counties Manukau have had a chequered season and have lost inspirational halfback Augustine Pulu, who copped a two-week ban for a dangerous tackle during their win over Manawatu last Thursday.
However, they are full of proven game breakers and will be keen to impress in their final game.
Tasman, on the other hand, have a semifinal to look forward to, although they will be very aware that they can’t get ahead of themselves. Carrying momentum into the play-offs is vital, along with the opportunity to pinch third spot on the table if North Harbour lose to Taranaki.
Makos’ assistant coach Leo Crowley added, ‘‘Momentum’s massive, we’ve won six out of seven and the confidence is there.
‘‘Obviously you want to get third because it gives you that slight hope that if things went your way you could host a final ... so we’ll be doing our utmost to beat [Counties] and let the other games happen as they happen.’’