Rugby: Auckland target Harbour up front

By Dylan Cleaver

Andrew Van der Heijden of Auckland. Photo / Getty Images
Andrew Van der Heijden of Auckland. Photo / Getty Images

Lock Andrew van der Heijden will be presented with an Auckland blazer following tomorrow's match at North Harbour.

In these days when rugby is a year-round business, receiving recognition for 14 games might be a quaint reminder of days past, but those games, plus the three seasons under his belt at Counties Manukau, make him a vastly more experienced campaigner than the locks he will be facing.

North Harbour Stadium has resembled a field hospital this week, so much so that loose forward Matt Luamanu has been converted to lock where he will partner Shane Neville.

William Whetton will start from the bench.

Not surprising then that Auckland, heavy on Super 14 experience through their pack, have targeted the forward battle as one to win.

"We're looking to pounce through the whole forward pack," said van der Heijden, "but it's their 25th celebration so we're not expecting an easy run."

The 26-year-old has established himself as a lock with a high workrate but it's his ball-winning that will most be in demand as Auckland look to avoid a repeat of last year's upset when Harbour came to Eden Park and ground their way to an ugly victory.

The tables could be turned tomorrow as coach Mark Anscombe named a side with two genuine fetchers at numbers six and seven.

"Daniel Braid picks himself," Anscombe said. "Onosa'i [Auva'a] has just been playing too well to leave out. He's had a great club season and played well for us against Northland last week when we experimented with it.

"There's certain games that will suit it and we've gone with it for this weekend."

The criticism of Auckland's forwards last year were they fired in fits and starts only.

"We know they're capable but we have to build a forward pack this year that consistently gets on top of other teams."

Anscombe sprung a minor surprise in naming Ash Moeke to start at what has been a troublesome No 10 spot ahead of experienced Hawkes Bay product Matt Berquist.

Anscombe said Moeke's club form for Gallaher Shield finalist Grammar Carlton won the day, but Berquist could expect to play a big role off the bench.

Harbour coach Craig Dowd did not have the same luxury of choice, particularly in the forwards, with many selections on a needs-must basis.

It is a new-look team that will see centre Brendon Watt, winger Alipate Fatafehi, halfback Grayson Hart and Luamanu pull the Harbour jumper on for the first time.

Dowd is confident his team can get off to a winning start.

"During the game we need to pour out more than just the usual standard of club rugby. Finding that level first up is a key for us but I know the North Harbour players really get up to play against Auckland."

The key to another upset appears to be the ability of Luke McAlister to unlock Auckland's defence.

NORTH HARBOUR V AUCKLAND
Albany, 2.35pm tomorrow

NORTH HARBOUR
Jack McPhee
Ken Pisi
Brendon Watt
Luke McAlister
Alipate Fatafehi
Michael Harris
Grayson Hart
Richard Mayhew
Scott Uren
Tom Chamberlain
Shane Neville
Matt Luamanu
Ben Afeaki
James Parsons
Michael Reid (c)
Reserves: Mike Mayhew, Taione Vea, William Whetton, Malakai Ravulo, Nalu Tuigamala, Ben Botica, Jack Tarrant.

AUCKLAND
Brent Ward
Atieli Pakalani
Ben Atiga
Jamie Helleur
Chay Raui
Ash Moeke
Toby Morland
Peter Saili
Daniel Braid (c)
Onosa'i Auva'a
A van der Heijden
Kurtis Haiu
Charlie Faumuina
Tom McCartney
Tevita Mailau
Auckland: Ash Dixon, Pauliasi Manu, Liaki Moli, Chris Lowrey, Brenton Helleur, Matt Berquist, Dave Thomas.

- NZ Herald

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