Preview: Canterbury v Taranaki

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Saturday, September 26, 2015    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Form: Canterbury have thrown down the gauntlet this season, they are unbeaten but unlike previous campaigns where they have compiled some cricket scores, they are grinding down opponents and playing their rugby so tight opponents can barely breathe.

Their 18-17 victory over Waikato was a good blueprint of this approach, even when the Mooloo looked as if they were going to become the first team in 2015 to defeat the red and blacks, somehow, somewhere, Scott Robertson’s team found a way.

While a semi-final is already confirmed for the hosts, they will be keen not only to secure a home berth, there will be a double dose of potential revenge on the cards – for not only did the Amber and Blacks lift the Premiership title last year, back in 2012 the ‘Naki took the Ranfurly Shield off their upcoming opponents.

Taranaki’s premiership defence is back on track with four straight wins, a nice turnaround to their 2015 campaign after falling to three opening defeats – to Wellington, Auckland and Otago.

Since then Colin Cooper’s team have been impressive, they have scored 123 points over the last three weeks with victories over Northland (50-7), Bay of Plenty (32-9) and Waikato (41-0).

The big challenge is now, this is their first genuine heavyweight opponent in a month while remarkably Taranaki have never ever beaten Canterbury in their own backyard during NPC/ITM Cup competition.

Sunday 27 September, 4.35pm at AMI Stadium (Addington), Christchurch
Played: 61, 1892- 2014
Canterbury wins: 44 | Taranaki wins: 15 | Draws: 2

Last match: Canterbury 26 Taranaki 23, 12.10.14 in New Plymouth (ITMC)
Last Taranaki win: Taranaki 18 Canterbury 9, 15.09.12 in New Plymouth (ITMC, RS)
Biggest Canterbury score: 51 (51-27), 20.10.12 in Christchurch (ITMC SF)
Biggest Taranaki score: 31 (31-20), 18.09.10 in New Plymouth (ITMC)
Biggest differential: Canterbury by 34 (43-9), 09.09.00 in New Plymouth (NPC)

Squad update: Canterbury Coach Scott Robertson has named a strong side to take on the defending champions in Christchurch.

Joe Moody, Ben Funnell and Nepo Laulala will pack down in the front row, with Mitchell Dunshea and Dominic Bird in the second row. Captain Luke Whitelock and Matt Todd return to the starting line-up to join Reed Prinsep in the back row.

Halfback Mitchell Drummond and first-five Richie Mo’unga will direct the backline, which includes Patrick Osborne and Johnny McNicholl on the wings, Rob Thompson and Ryan Crotty in the mid-field and Tom Taylor at fullback.

Taranaki have once again resisted making widespread changes, with Cooper preferring to stick with a winning formula.

There are two alterations, one up front and one out wide. Hika Elliot has been named in the starting XV for the first time this year while the lively Jackson Ormond starts on the right wing replacing Cody Rei who moves to the playing axis.

Key players: The tone for this contest will as always be set by Canterbury’s forward pack, they have been in fine touch this season and no forward unit in the ITM Cup has as many players that have worn the Black jersey.

Matt Todd, the second most prolific tackler in the competition with 90, will be an important figure, as will Joe Moody and Nepo Laulala in the front row.

Few teams have been able to match the red and blacks at the coalface, and fewer still have managed to halt their impressive driving mauls, but this is one of the strongest rival forward units that Canterbury has come across this season.

Richie Mo’unga and Mitchell Drummond will set the tone from the halves but they have been supporting figures, the real venom comes from the outside flanks, Johnny McNicholl is one of the tournament’s form wings while Pat Osborne has provided muscle from the left wing.

Taranaki have been handed a double injury blow with news that Marty McKenzie and James Broadhurst will play no further part in their 2015 campaign.

Cooper however is confident in his charges, with Cody Rei being handed the reigns at first five-eighth, while Mitchell Brown and Toa Halafihi will look to provide the impetus up front.

Captain Charlie Ngatai and centre Seta Tamanivalu will provide the offence from out wide and their backline play is one area where the visitors will feel they can match Canterbury – the Amber and Blacks have scored 25 tries this year, one less than their illustrious rivals.