PREVIEW: Counties Manukau v Taranaki

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Tuesday, September 13, 2016    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Form: Counties Manukau have had mixed form, winning two of their four games, but with only one win against a premiership side, Hawke's Bay 48-20. It has lost to two Championship sides North Harbour 17-20 and Wellington 27-28. Taranaki have three wins out of four having lost 20-25 to Tasman in the third round but with wins over Bay of Plenty (30-22), Hawke's Bay (55-28) and Southland (30-14)

Played: 34

Wins: Counties Manukau 13, Taranaki 19, Drawn 2

Last match: Counties Manukau 10 Taranaki 17 (2015)

Counties Manukau: 1.Sean Bagshaw, 2.Gafatasi Su'a, 3.Kalolo Tuiloma, 4.Matiaha Martin, 5.Jimmy Topou (captain), 6.Matt Vaai, 7.Jordan Taufua, 8.Sootala Fa'aso'o, 9.Augustine Pulu (captain), 10.Piers Francis, 11.Sherwin Stowers, 12.Cardiff Vaega, 13.Sam Vaka, 14.Sione Molia, 15.Luteru Laulala.

Substitutes: 16.Sione Anga'aelangi, 17.Sean Paranihi, 18.Sione Falatau, 19.Cameron Skelton, 20.Viliam Taulani, 21.Richard Judd, 22.Joe Reynolds, 23.Toni Pulu.

Taranaki: 1.Mitchell Graham, 2.Rhys Marshall, 3.Ryan Cocker, 4.Leon Power, 5.Leighton Price, 6.Mitchell Crosswell, 7.Lachlan Boshier, 8.Toa Halafihi, 9.Kylem O'Donnell, 10.Marty McKenzie, 11.Declan O'Donnell, 12.Johnny Faauli, 13.Sean Wainui, 14.Beaudein Waaka, 15.Stephen Perofeta.

Substitutes: 16.Harrison Jones, 17.Reuben O'Neill, 18.Asaeli Sorovaki, 19.Mitchell Brown, 20.Iopu Iopu-Aso, 21.Te Toiroa Tahuiorangi, 22.Jackson Ormond, 23.Manasa Mataele.

Squad Update: Blindside flanker Matt Vaai returns to the team with Jimmy Tupou returning to lock after the Wellington game. An extra bonus has been the return of lively wing Toni Pulu who has recovered from a broken finger quicker than expected and he has been included on the bench. Sione Anga'aelangi has been named back-up hooker while Sean Paranihi has been included among the props on the substitutes' bench.

Changes aplenty have been made by Taranaki coach Colin Cooper, mindful of his side's Ranfurly Shield challenge with Waikato on Sunday. In the starting XV halfback Kylem O'Donnell has been included and skipper Mitchell Crosswell is back on the blindside of the scrum after injury kept him out of the last game against Southland while Asaeli Sorovaki has been listed in the substitutes along with hooker Harry Jones.

Key Players: Counties Manukau would have to feel hard done by in the manner of their last gasp loss to Wellington at the weekend and will have to pick themselves up in a hurry against a Taranaki team looking for a good dress rehearsal before their Ranfurly Shield challenge on Sunday. The clash of the backlines should be a fascinating part of this contest. Counties Manukau showed some impressive touches at the weekend and with fullback Luteru Laulala gaining in confidence the combination with mid-fielders Cardiff Vaega and Sam Vaka should test the Taranaki defence. But the visitors have their own merits headed by the control of first five-eighths Marty McKenzie who should be handy in the goal-kicking department in this one while Sean Wainui continues to grow in stature at centre.