The return of outstanding openside flanker Tanerau Latimer is welcome news for the Steamers ahead of the challenge to come from Canterbury in Rotorua tomorrow.
Latimer has been on enforced rest after playing himself to a standstill in the last few rounds of Super rugby with the Chiefs. He is back fully-charged and desperate to get stuck into the highly-fancied Cantabrians who were outstanding in their last round demolition of Waikato.
The Steamers have won just one of three games and any repeat of the sluggish start in their last two matches will not do on Thursday. What is desperately needed is a repeat of last season's match in Rotorua, when the Steamers ripped Auckland apart with easily their best performance of the year.
Coach Kevin Schuler has made some key changes to the Steamers.
Centre Brett Mather broke his jaw in two places against Auckland to continue his run of bad luck with injuries and is replaced by the experienced Kenny Lynn.
Te Puke hooker Nathan Harris will start with the impressive Joe Royal on the bench, while Josh Hall starts at halfback with Samisoni Fisilau injured. That means a debut off the bench for young Te Puna halfback/first-five Te Aihi Toma, who is highly regarded by the Bay of Plenty coaches.
Te Puke Sports lock Tim Bond has recovered from injury to lock the scrum with Keepa Mewett, whose Tauranga Sports teammate Steve Honey has looked comfortable making the step up to the ITM Cup and will start at fullback with Dave Thomas completing a strong bench.
Schuler and his team enjoyed a meet and greet session with 650 budding young Sam Canes in Rotorua yesterday before a solid training session.
He says against Canterbury they have to be patient, spread across the field and make sure they make their tackles.
"On attack it is the same sort of thing," Schuler said. "We are creating opportunities but we just have to make sure we are calm and finish them. Every week there is something new and a change of players here and there too."
The 32-17 loss to Auckland at Eden Park was disappointing but Schuler says he was pleased with some aspects.
"Our scummaging was pretty dominant and we gave ourselves some good platforms to play off and we had them stretched on a number of occasions which was good.
"But we need to make sure we are playing to our tactics. We hadn't planned to go out and attack from inside our 22 so we realise we probably made it a bit hard on ourselves."
Bay team to play Canterbury at Rotorua International Stadium, tomorrow at 7.35pm
1 Kane Hames, 2 Nathan Harris, 3 Pingi Tala'apitaga, 4 Keepa Mewett, 5 Tim Bond, 6 Johan Bardoul, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 8 Carl Axtens (v-capt), 9 Josh Hall, 10 Willie Ripia, 11 Kimami Sitauti, 12 Sam Beard, 13 Kenny Lynn, 14 Tino Nemani, 15 Steve Honey. Reserves: 16 Joe Royal, 17 Albert Anae, 18 Joe Tupe, 19 Beau Robinson, 20 Te Aihi Toma, 21 Nick Evemy, 22 Dave Thomas
BY THE NUMBERS
ITM Cup points scorers
Bay of Plenty's Willie Ripia was the first player to bring up 50 points for the season but Lima Sopoaga has moved to the head of the points scorers list.
61 Lima Sopoaga (Wellington) 1 try, 16 con, 8 pen
52 Hayden Parker (Otago) 1 try, 4 con, 13 pen
50 Willie Ripia (Bay of Plenty) 1 try, 3 con, 13 pen
45 Ihaia West (Hawke's Bay) 3 tries, 9 con, 4 pen
43 Ben Seymour (Northland) 1 try, 4 con, 10 pen
31 Tyler Bleyendaal (Canterbury) 5 con, 7 pen
30 Simon Hickey (Auckland) 6 con, 6 pen
30 Scott Eade (Southland) 10 pen
30 Trent Renata (Waikato) 3 con, 8 pen
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