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Preview: Manawatu v Taranaki

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Friday, August 5, 2011    Sportal.co.nz    Getty Images

The fact they're near neighbours only adds spice to the clash.

VENUE & TIME: FMG Stadium, Palmerston North, Saturday August 6 @ 1435

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 83; Manawatu 22, Taranaki 54, drawn 7.

LAST TIME: October 9, 2010 (New Plymouth) – Taranaki 30-16 Manawatu.

WALKING WOUNDED: Manawatu has made only two changes, continuing its policy of rotating the loose forwards. Hamish Gosling, one of the two who has been replaced, is carrying a minor injury but is bracketed on the bench. Taranaki did its rotating in the front row, where there were two changes, and on the wing, where Jackson Ormond was rewarded for an outstanding day against Auckland with the week off.

FORM:
Manawatu:
Round 1: beat Hawke's Bay 32-23 (h)
Round 2: lost to Counties-Manukau 25-32 (a)
Round 3: beat Northland 30-22 (h)
Round 4: lost to Canterbury 15-42 (a)
Round 5: beat North Harbour 32-21 (h)

Taranaki:
Round 1: lost to Wellington 5-23 (h)
Round 2: beat Waikato 30-23 (a)
Round 3: beat Northland 23-16 (a)
Round 4: beat Auckland 39-11 (h)

Manawatu might have dozed through the first half against North Harbour but got cracking after the break and eventually finished up with four tries and a good win, which was only the union's second ever against Harbour. The forwards penned Harbour in its own end for longer periods as the game wore on and the side was able to cash in on the errors forced by this unrelenting pressure. Taranaki also drifted through the first 40 of its last game, against Auckland, but caught fire just after halftime and piled on four converted tries in 12 minutes to take the game well out of Auckland's reach. Colin Cooper dragged most of his stars early but the replacements did just as well and Taranaki ended Old Timer's Day with a record margin over Auckland, which must have made the former players rather happy at the aftermatch.

WHO'S HOT: Plenty of players in both teams are going well at the moment, with nobody in the Manawatu side working harder than Doug Tietjens. One of the team's best against Canterbury, he must be starting to attract attention from coaches whose task will soon be to pick the Super rugby squads. Junior Tomasi Cama was a game-breaker for the Turbos against Harbour, slicing through cleanly a couple of times to set up tries, scoring one and kicking a very timely dropped goal. He is having his best season in the 15-man game. Young fullback Nehe Milne-Skudder has also been impressive in his first season and looks a most accomplished prospect. He is safe on defence and dangerous on attack – not a bad combination at all. Craig Clarke is a tower of strength in the Taranaki pack, never playing a bad game and always in the thick of the action while his leadership is also important to the side. The forwards worked well against Auckland and the backs really caught the eye as a result, with Kurt Baker looking dangerous every time he touched the ball. You wouldn't have picked that he's been out injured for months the way he played and Auckland never contained him – to its considerable cost. Jayden Hayward is to the backs what Clarke is to the forwards – the steady, reliable, unflustered leader. He's also a regular try-scorer; last week he touched down for the ninth straight ITM Cup game and started a fevered search through the Taranaki record book for a longer sequence. So far one hasn't come to light.

WE THINK: While these are two teams playing good rugby, Taranaki appeals as the one travelling better. Given the personnel at his disposal Cooper should have his team ticking along but they are playing some of the more impressive football seen under the mountain in a while. Manawatu is hard to beat at home but Taranaki should be able to do it, maybe with 10 points in hand.

TEAMS:

Manawatu: 1. Grant Polson, 2. Rob Foreman, 3. Ma'afu Fia, 4. Fraser Stone, 5. Michael Fitzgerald, 6. Nick Crosswell (capt), 7. Doug Tietjens, 8. James Oliver, 9. Aaron Smith, 10. Aaron Cruden, 11. Junior Tomasi Cama, 12. Frank Bryant, 13. Johnny Leota, 14. Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 15. Nehe Milne-Skudder.

Reserves: 16. Bryn Templeman, 17. Jared Brock, 18. Reece Robinson, 19. Hamish Gosling or Callum Gibbins, 20. Karl Bryson, 21. Dan Kelly, 22. Craig Clare, 23. Peni Kaufusi or David Te Moana.


Taranaki: 1. Carl Carmichael, 2. Mahonri Schwalger, 3. Shane Cleaver, 4. James Broadhurst, 5. Craig Clarke (capt), 6. Chris Walker, 7. Scott Waldrom, 8. Ben Souness, 9. Tyson Keats, 10. Beauden Barrett, 11. Frazier Climo, 12. Jayden Hayward, 13. George Pisi, 14. Andre Taylor, 15. Kurt Baker.

Reserves: 16. Laurence Corlett, 17. Michael Bent, 18. Jason Eaton, 19. Blade Thomson, 20. Brett Goodin, 21. Jack Cameron, 22. Willie Rickards, 23. Timo Tutavaha.


REFEREE: Nick Briant