Daniel Richardson is a Wellington-based sports journalist for NZME. News Service.

Rugby: Unbeaten Aucklanders can't afford patchy performance

Auckland coach Wayne Pivac. Photo / NZPA
Auckland coach Wayne Pivac. Photo / NZPA

Auckland coach Wayne Pivac is happy his team is unbeaten after four matches in the ITM Cup, he's just not impressed with the way they have gone about it.

The Super City outfit have looked patchy this season as they've been pushed by Championship battlers North Harbour and Manawatu, run close by Bay of Plenty and needed a sideline conversion to sink Counties Manukau on Wednesday night.

But Pivac knows he can't sniff at a winning start to the campaign.

"There'd be plenty of coaches who would like to have that 4-0 record, so don't get me wrong," he said.

"And also, you've got to remember there's a lot of young guys in this team that are learning a lot from this campaign to date. When we put it together I think we are going to have the ability to play some good footy. It's a little bit frustrating at the moment. We are making some basic errors but it is a work in progress."

Auckland have lost a host of players from last year's side who made a charge to the final with Steven Luatua and Charles Piutau now in the All Black mix, while Ben Lam and Gareth Anscombe are injured and Daniel Braid has gone overseas.

It's been a challenging task for Pivac to work in the newcomers alongside his seasoned players and the chemistry isn't there yet.

Auckland have made two enforced changes for today's game because of injury with halfback Junior Poluleuligaga (shoulder) and wing George Moala (haematoma) unavailable, and they've given the front-row another shake-up.

Openside flanker Luke Braid will start, while Sean Polwart has reverted to the bench. Sevens maestro Orene Ai'i is also on the bench.

Taranaki, who are sitting last in the Premiership, have started the campaign with losses against competition heavyweights Canterbury and Wellington, while they managed to sneak past Southland in Invercargill last weekend.

Pivac said despite their poor record, Taranaki wouldn't lie down.

"You certainly don't write Taranaki off, particularly with them playing at home and I know they weren't happy with their trip to Eden Park last year, where we got one up on them and had a good win, so they'll be sitting waiting for us to arrive."

The key question is: Which Auckland team will turn up? The stuttering side who have begun the competition or the polished lot that Pivac wants to see.

Taranaki have made three changes to the starting side that defeated Southland.

Ryan Cocker will make his ITM Cup debut at tighthead prop, Doug Tietjens will start at openside flanker and Seta Tamanivalu will get a run at centre.

Taranaki v Auckland

New Plymouth, 2.35pm today

Taranaki: Jackson Ormond, Seta Tamanivalu, Isaia Tuifua, Waisake Naholo, Daniel Brooks, Chris Smylie, Blade Thomson, Doug Tietjens, Kane Barrett (c), James Broadhurst, Jarrad Hoeata, Ryan Cocker, Rhys Marshall, Carl Carmichael

Reserves: Timo Tutavaha, Sione Lea, Mitchell Crosswell, Berny Hall, Jamison Gibson-Park, Rick McKenna, Ope Peleseuma.

Auckland: Lolagi Visinia, Vince Aso, Malakai Fekitoa, Hadleigh Parkes (c), Tenina Sauileoge, Simon Hickey, Piri Weepu, Peter Saili, Luke Braid, Joe Edwards, Patrick Tuipulotu, Liaki Moli, Angus Ta'avao, Tom McCartney, Sam Prattley

Reserves: Gafatasi Su'a, Pauliasi Manu, Jack Whetton, Sean Polwart, Wayne Ngaluafe, Orene Ai'i, Saleaula Silipa.


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