Preview: Counties Manukau v Taranaki
Sunday, September 15, 2013 Sportal.co.nz Getty Images
WALKING WOUNDED: Tana Umaga has named an unchanged Steelers lineup after last week's Ranfurly Shield win in Napier.
Meanwhile, Colin Cooper has made one injury-forced change with Doug Tietjens replacing Berny Hall at openside.
Front-rowers Carl Carmichael and Rhys Marshall rise from the bench as does veteran halfback Chris Smylie while Frazier Climo makes his return from injury to provide cover from the pine.
FORM: Taranaki have had a slow start to the season, with just two wins from five outings.
However, after being well and truly thumped by Auckland last weekend, the men from Yarrow Stadium bounced back to rub salt into Hawke's Bay's wounds following their defeat to the Steelers four days prior.
That win was hardly a resounding advertisement of their credentials but one can never underestimate the confidence it would have given them heading into this one.
The Steelers showed that the form book is just about as useless as and ash tray on a motorcycle when it comes to Ranfurly Shield matches.
They suffered back-to-back losses against Tasman and Auckland before claiming the Log o'Wood for the first time in the union's 58-year history.
If anything, that tells us this one will be decided by who turns up with the right mindset on the day.
WE THINK: The loss of Taranaki captain Craig Clarke has been enormous this season and has reduced the hard edge they once possessed up front.
That's where Counties have come strong in past weeks. Their experienced, yet unheralded front row embarrassed Auckland's Super Rugby-laden pack at Eden Park causing coach Wayne Pivac to spit the dummy.
Then when they needed to grind it out against the Magpies, they did so and inch by inch they put doubt into the heart of a packed out McLean Park.
Determination. Blood, sweat and tears. That's what drove the Steelers to a championship title last year and it would seem as though that attitude has kicked in again, albeit after a patchy start to the season.
In their losses this year, Counties have been guilty of falling on the wrong side of the referee. Indeed they were the most penalised team overall in 2012 and that ill-discipline rears its head from time to time.
If anything, that will be Counties' undoing here. But we feel with the Shield on the line Umaga will have emphasised the importance of staying on the straight and narrow, especially after his recent ordeal with the NZRU.
Counties by 8.
Counties Manukau: 1. Simon Lemalu, 2. Hika Elliot, 3. Jarrod Firth, 4. Ronald Raaymakers, 5. Jimmy Tupou, 6. Adam Cathcart, 7. Maama Vaipulu, 8. Frtiz Lee (c), 9. Augustine Pulu, 10. Baden Kerr, 11. Toni Pulu, 12. Bundee Aki, 13. Rey Lee-Lo, 14. Frank Halai, 15. Sherwin Stowers.
Reserves: 16. Suliasi Taufalele, 17. Sam Aiono, 18. Sikeli Nabou, 19. Sean Reidy, 20. Kane Hancy, 21. Ahsee Tuala, 22. Sam Vaka.
Taranaki: 1. Carl Carmichael, 2. Rhys Marshall, 3. Ryan Cocker, 4. Jarrod Hoeata, 5. Kane Barrett, 6. Mitchell Crosswell, 7. Doug Tietjens, 8. Blade Thomson, 9. Chris Smylie, 10. Daniel Brooks, 11. Seta Tamanivalu, 12. Ope Peleseuma, 13. Andre Taylor, 14. Jackson Ormond, 15. Kurt Baker.
Reserves: 16. Timo Tutavaha, 17. Sione Lea, 18. James Broadhurst, 19. Nemia Soqeta, 20. Jamison Gibson-Park, 21. Beaudein Waaka, 22. Frazier Climo.
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