Preview: Bay of Plenty v Taranaki

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Friday, September 11, 2015    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Form: Not many people would have picked the Steamers to take a 37-26 win in Pukekohe, but Bay of Plenty had the match under control long before the final whistle, with two late Steeler’s tries in the final five minutes flattering the score line.

With other victories over North Harbour and Southland, the big challenge for head coach Clayton McMillan and his team is to cross paths with and match a competition heavyweight, and Taranaki will be the most formidable team the Steamers have played so far in 2015.

A win at home would secure third spot on the Championship table for Bay of Plenty, but they will need to defeat the Amber and Blacks for the first time since 2006.

Taranaki meanwhile can declare that their season is back on track, winning two matches over the previous round, their first successes in 2015.

A 17-10 grind against Counties was followed with a 50-7 walloping of Northland in Whangarei, and if head coach Colin Cooper is to sleep even easier then three wins in a row will be a potent tonic.

Saturday 12 September, 5.35pm at Rotorua International Stadium, Rotorua
Played: 41, 1925-2014 | Bay of Plenty wins: 16 | Taranaki wins: 25

Last match: Taranaki 41 Bay of Plenty 3, 31.08.14 in New Plymouth (ITMC)
Last Bay of Plenty win: Bay of Plenty 20 Taranaki 16, 09.09.06 in Mt Maunganui (ANZC)
Biggest Taranaki score: 58 (58-14), 28.08.05 in New Plymouth (NPC)
Biggest Bay of Plenty score: 51 (51-12), 25.07.87 in New Plymouth (NPC)
Biggest differential: Taranaki by 44 (58-14), 28.08.04 in New Plymouth (NPC)

Squad update: Bay of Plenty have admitted that their playing resources are being stretched as they grapple with an injury toll, but McMillan has declared his squad is stepping up to the plate as a few changes are made for this round five clash.

Carl Axtens, Elijah Nicholas, Maritino Nemani and Johan Bardoul drop out of the starting XV.

Number eight Joe Tupe and lock Keepa Mewett come into the pack, while the backline welcomes Lalakai Foketi and Te Rangi Fraser into the run on team at centre and fullback respectively – with Chase Tiatia moving to the left wing.

Taranaki on the other hand have made three changes to the starting fifteen which fronted against Northland.

Riki Hoeata has an opportunity to make his mark at lock. Mitchell Crosswell starts at blindside flanker with Toa Halafihi moving to number 8. There are no changes in the backs.

There’s plenty of experience in the reserves with All Black hooker Hika Elliot lining up alongside Sione Lea who rejoins the side after missing a game due to concussion. Ryan Cocker will earn his blazer in his 20th game for the Port Taranaki Bulls. David Ormrod gets an opportunity to impress off the bench supported by the highly experienced Jackson Ormond and rising mid-field star Sean Wainui.

Key players: When Bay of Plenty played the Steelers last weekend there were heroes all around the park, and it began with the big men up front, as Culum Retallick and Nathan Harris put in big set piece games especially at the line out.

Supporting players were seen elsewhere in the pack, with Shahn Eru scoring his first ITM Cup try while Solomona Sakalia and Pingi Tala'apitaga were almost immovable when packing down for scrums.

Out wide Dan Hollinshead had his best game of the season while Te Aihi Toma was electric throughout, with the Steamers backline generals moving their team around the field with class.

Taranaki however like their opponents put in their best display of 2015 during round four.

Mitch Crosswell, Blade Thomson and Rhys Marshall were dominant figures in the tight exchanges while Toa Halafihi showed us what he can do when building up a head of steam from number eight.

Codey Rei is looking better with each passing week, which in turn is allowing a credentialed backline to make more impact.

Charlie Ngatai had a blinder against Northland while Seta Tamanivalu and Jackson Ormond were try scoring threats that the Steamers will need to mark well if they are to be a chance against the defending Premiership champions.