Taranaki make mass changes
The reward of finishing top of the Mitre 10 Cup premiership table with a game to spare has been well and truly highlighted by Taranaki coach Colin Cooper who has opted to rest the entire starting XV from Wednesday’s successful Ranfurly Shield defence against Manawatu.
Taranaki will meet North Harbour at Albany on Sunday in what has fast become a meaningless game for them, although it could decide which teams finishes third or fourth on the table depending on how Tasman’s match with Counties Manukau goes.
Suddenly, Taranaki’s ‘storm’ week has become a weekend off for the frontline players with just a handful who did not start against Manawatu asked to either start or sit on the bench.
That includes captain Charlie Ngatai, who will lead from fullback, while Wednesday night reserves Kylem and Declan O’Donnell, along with Fin Hoeata, Adrian Wyrill and the entire front row will be in the XV who run on.
First five-eighth Ciarahn Matoe and No 8 Tom Florence will get their first run-ons for Taranaki after playing late roles off the bench earlier in the season for experience while there will be full debuts for well performed development players Micaiah TorranceRead and Daniel Waite.
A number of players could also appear for Taranaki for the first time if they are called on from the reserves, including promising hooker Bradley Slater, son of former long-serving provincial captain Andrew, and Clifton fullback Matt McKenzie.
Another major talking point in the selection is the return to the starting side of 56-game veteran Jackson Ormond who has not played since he fractured his leg for Southern in their club semifinal loss to Coastal back in July.
The overall selections will certainly raise eyebrows, and might even evoke some criticism, but Taranaki have simply opted to take advantage of their own situation.
After all, some critics would point to the fact that sides are seriously disadvantaged having to play three games in 10 days, while other qualifiers have had only two matches in a fortnight.
Taranaki also had the taxing situation of winning the Ranfurly Shield off Canterbury on the Friday night and then having to back up and defend it on the Wednesday.
Even through that Shield defence it was noticeable that a number of Taranaki players, who have clocked up a lot of minutes in the campaign, were struggling in the second half and they will now enjoy some rest before they meet either Harbour or Tasman in next week’s semifinal.
As top qualifier, Taranaki should also be able to dictate what day that is played and by some reports they will want it on the Saturday night at Yarrow Stadium.
Donald Maka will make his starting debut for Taranaki when they meet North Harbour.