Preview: Taranaki v Auckland

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Friday, September 26, 2014    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Friday 26 September, 7.35pm at Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth
Played: 119, 1887-2013
Taranaki wins: 27 | Auckland wins: 83 | Draws: 7

Squad update: Taranaki coach Colin Cooper has made four changes to his team, with many suggesting that this may be the Amber and Blacks most potent line up.

Kurt Baker is out with injury, resulting in Codey Rei being included in the starting XV. The other changes see Jamison Gibson- Park, Iopu Ioup-Aso and Angus Ta’avao come into the side.

Auckland have kept the faith after their 32-7 victory over North Harbour, their third straight of the campaign, with Joe Edwards the only change replacing the injured Blake Gibson.

Nepia Fox-Matamua comes onto the pine in the only other alteration to the match day squad, while All Blacks lock Patrick Tuipulotu continues his menacing combination with Liaki Moli.

Form: After a little wobble in their first fortnight of action, Taranaki have emerged as one of the genuine heavyweights of the competition, their 23 tries scored and 13 conceded are second only to Canterbury while they have won five on the trot.

However it is the quality of those scalps that forces one to take note, with the Amber and Blacks scoring at least 40 points against Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Southland – before recording strong victories against Tasman and Northland.

The rivalry however is quite against Taranaki, with the side winning just 27 of 119 matches between the two unions, with Auckland winning 51-15 in 2013 when they last came to New Plymouth.

The blue and whites are in good touch as well, although this is their first match against a Premiership team since that peculiar game in Wellington where Auckland scored 31 unanswered points to win the contest.

Yet while the team’s defence has been sound, conceding only 14 tries, their attack is effectively ranked equal 11th in the ITM Cup, with the usually potent Auckland offence crossing the chalk just 14 times this season.

Last match: Auckland 51 Taranaki 15, 07.09.13 in New Plymouth (ITMC)

Last Taranaki win: Taranaki 39 Auckland 11, 31.07.11 in New Plymouth (ITMC)

Biggest Auckland score: 55 (55-9), 31.08.91 in Auckland (NPC, RS)

Biggest Taranaki score: 42 (42-39), 24.08.96 in Auckland (NPC, RS)

Biggest differential: Auckland by 46 (55-9), 31.08.91 in Auckland (NPC, RS)

Key players: The inclusions of Gibson-Park at halfback and Ta’avao at tighthead bolster the side, with some suggested that the Taranaki prop is one of the best scrummaging forwards in the competition.

However it has been the work of the other Amber and Black big men, notably Blade Thompson and James Broadhurst, whose support and work rate around the field has allowed the side’s attack to stack big ball carriers out wide in a manner similar to the All Blacks.

Auckland have the quality up front to cause Taranaki some problems, a claim not many unions could back up, but for the blue and whites the question comes from their tactical direction out wide.

With Gareth Ancombe remaining at first five-eighth, expect the combinations in the back division to grow with Hadleigh Parkes and Ben Lam powerful strike weapons that Auckland will want to get into the game with more frequency.