Makos mix it up for Coun­ties

Marlborough Express - - SPORT - PETER JONES

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.’’

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