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Preview: Taranaki v Canterbury

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Friday, September 30, 2016    Mitre10Cup.co.nz    Getty Images

Form: Taranaki have just three bonus points from their seven matches to date, and sit five points adrift of Canterbury in second place. The Bulls are have tasted defeat since their 20-25 loss to Tasman at the beginning of September. Since then, they've claimed victories over Southland (30-14), Counties Manukau (30-29) and Manawatu (30-19), as well as their last gasp 20-20 draw with Waikato in their Ranfury Shield encounter.

Canterbury, meanwhile, have lost one game all season. Their 13-19 loss to Manawatu on September 18 was arguably one of the biggest shocks of recent memory, given the Turbos’ lowly start to their Championship campaign. The defending champions righted the wrongs the following week, however, with a 45-34 win over Otago before claiming the Ranfurly Shield with a 29-23 win over Waikato.

Played: 64
Wins: Taranaki 16, Canterbury 46, Draws 2
Last Time: Canterbury 46, Taranaki 20 (ITM Cup 2015 semifinal)

TEAMS:
Taranaki: 1. Mitchell Graham, 2. Rhys Marshall, 3. Ryan Cocker, 4. Ben Matwijow, 5. Leighton Price, 6. Mitchell Brown, 7. Berny Hall (captain), 8. Iopu Iopu-Aso, 9. Kylem O'Donnell, 10. Marty McKenzie, 11. Latu Vaeno, 12. Sean Wainui, 13. Seta Tamanivalu, 14. Declan O'Donnell, 15. Stephen Perofeta.

Reserves: 16. Sione Lea, 17. Jared Proffit, 18. Reuben O'Neill, 19. Lachlan Boshier, 20. Toa Halafihi, 21. Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22. Johnny Fa’auli, 23. Jackson Ormond.

Canterbury: 1. Daniel Lienert-Brown, 2. Nathan Vella, 3. Siate Tokolahi, 4. Scott Barrett, 5. David McDuling, 6. Reed Prinsep, 7. Jed Brown, 8. Luke Whitelock (captain), 9. Alby Mathewson, 10. Ben Volavolva, 11. George Bridge, 12. Jordie Barrett, 13. Jack Goodhue, 14. Nathan Earle, 15. Johnny McNicholl.

Reserves: 16. Ben Funnell, 17. Alex Hodgman, 18. Oliver Jager, 19. Dominic Bird, 20. Billy Harmon, 21. Jack Stratton, 22. Richie Mo'unga, 23. Inga Finau.

Squad Update: Bulls captain Berny Hall returns to the side after missing the last game due to concussion fears in what is a significant boost for the hosts. Meanwhile, Mitchell Crosswell (rib) remains unavailable through injury. Taranaki will also be without Charlie Ngatai for the rest of the season, with confirmation of significant concussion problems.

Unsurprisingly, Canterbury have rung the changes for their third match in eight days. Prop Daniel Lienert-Brown gets an opportunity to start following an impressive stint in their Ranfurly Shield success, while Nathan Vella, Alby Mathewson, George Bridge, Ben Volavola and David McDuling all get their opportunities in the starting side. Fears of an ankle injury to Richie Mo'unga in the Shield game – which saw Jordie Barrett kick goals towards the end of the match – have been allayed, with the first five-eighths named in the reserves.

Key Players: Iopu Iopu-Aso continues to make a big impact in the No.8 jersey, and his competition with Toa Halafihi for the starting spot has seen both players move up a level on attack. Kylem O'Donnell and brother Declan have made their marks for the Bulls this season, with Kylem surpassing the highly touted Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi for the No.1 halfback spot. Stephen Perofeta's game vision has been exquisite, while Rhys Marshall has also been in commanding form. For Canterbury, Jordie Barrett continues to illustrate why he has been eagerly sought after by sides in the Super Rugby competition thanks to his electric pace and kicking game. Alby Mathewson looms as a significant player for the green-looking red and blacks. His knowledge and experience at the higher levels, and partnership with Ben Volavola at first-five eighths, will be crucial if they are to catch the hosts napping at breakdown time.