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ITM Cup Preview: Auckland v Taranaki

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Saturday, September 4, 2010    Sportal.co.nz    Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: Eden Park, Auckland, Sunday September 5, 14.35 NZT.

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 117 – Auckland 83, Taranaki 25, drawn 9.

LAST TIME: October 9, 2009 (New Plymouth) – Taranaki 0-10 Auckland.

LAST TIME AT VENUE: August 10, 2008 – Auckland 22-6 Taranaki.

MATCH ODDS: NZ TAB (Tuesday): Auckland $1.70, Taranaki $2.05.

WALKING WOUNDED: X.

FORM: Not surprisingly, Mark Anscombe got stuck into his under-performing troops in the selection room and Auckland shows seven changes from Christchurch. John Afoa and Benson Stanley are missing due to All Black commitments, Onosai'i Auva'a has done a knee and Dave Thomas (concussion) is also out; Bryce Heem has been recalled from Northland to fill his place. The other changes were optional. Scott Waldrom (broken hand, about a month) is missing from the Taranaki team, while David Smith returns from injury and the backline reverts to the normal starting seven.

PAST FIVE:
Auckland
Round 1: Beat North Harbour 36-14
Round 2: Lost to Waikato 18-21
Round 3: Beat Bay of Plenty 11-6
Round 4: Beat Northland 26-13
Round 5: Lost to Canterbury 16-35

PAST FIVE:
Taranaki
Round 1: Lost to Northland 19-26
Round 2: Beat Tasman 33-11
Round 3: Beat Waikato 33-23
Round 4: Beat Bay of Plenty 24-15
Round 5: Beat Otago 25-15

Auckland was strangely listless last week and was cleaned out by Canterbury, who dominated all areas. The breakdown will be worrying Mark Anscombe, as Canterbury pinched 11 turnovers there, but the handling was poor as well and nothing went right – or with any pace - for most of the game. One suspects Auckland training won't be a happy place for a lot of players this week. Taranaki picked up its fourth win on the trot and, like the other three, it was all done before halftime. For the third week running the amber-and-blacks had three tries on the board after 40 minutes, and for the third week running that's how many they had at the end. Taranaki is something of an enigma this year; its scoring record in the first half leads the competition by miles, but it has the worst record afterwards. Maybe Colin Cooper needs to throw his current halftime speech in the bin and pick a new one, but if his team ever plays for 80 minutes they'll beat anyone.

WHO'S HOT: Not many Aucklanders will have fond memories of Christchurch, and most were a clear second in their individual battles. With everyone a step behind the Cantabrians, Daniel Braid was getting clattered off the ball too often at breakdowns and he really needs a few other bodies there quickly. Toby Morland tried to spark things along but never quite managed it, while Matt Berquist was his usual dependable self in a losing cause and landed all three kicking chances. Craig Clarke led Taranaki from the front and his form this season has been both consistent and good. Unsung flanker Chris Walker is another whose performance level remains high each week. Young Beauden Barrett, in his first start at fullback, offered a lot on attack, showing a sure pair of hands and a good rugby brain, while his defensive work was everything it needed to be; nobody would have been unhappy with his game.

WE THINK: If Canterbury got the biggest serve from its coach a week ago, you can bet Auckland is in line for the award this week. The blue-and-whites can play a lot better than they have in recent matches and we think they may start to show that on Eden Park. Despite Taranaki's good form and record at the ground, we're going for Auckland by five points in this one.

TEAMS:

Auckland: 1. Tevita Mailau, 2. Tom McCartney, 3. Charlie Faumuina, 4. Liaki Moli, 5. Andrew van der Heijden, 6. Peter Saili, 7. Daniel Braid (captain), 8. Chris Lowery, 9. Toby Morland, 10. Matt Berquist, 11. Bryce Heem, 12. Jamie Helleur, 13. Ben Atiga, 14. Atieli Pakalani Charles Piutau, 15. Brent Ward.

Reserves: 16. Ash Dixon, 17. Angus Ta'avao, 18. Kurtis Haiu, 19. Adam Kleeberger, 20. Brenton Helleur, 21. Gareth Anscombe, 22. Winston Stanley.

Taranaki: 1. Shane Cleaver, 2. Timo Tutavaha, 3. Michael Bent, 4. James Broadhurst, 5. Craig Clarke (captain), 6. Jarrad Hoeata, 7. Chris Walker, 8. Ben Souness, 9. Tyson Keats, 10. Willie Ripia, 11. David Smith, 12. Jayden Hayward, 13. George Pisi, 14. Andre Taylor, 15. Kurt Baker.

Reserves: 16. Mahonri Schwalger, 17. Carl Carmichael, 18. Kane Barrett, 19. Samuela Vunisa, 20. Brett Goodin, 21. Beauden Barrett, 22. Isaia Tuifua.

REFEREE: Bryce Lawrence