Rugby: Five changes for Auckland

Auckland's encounter with Taranaki in New Plymouth tomorrow could feature a blast from the past, with Orene Ai'i named on the bench. Photo / Getty Images.
Auckland's encounter with Taranaki in New Plymouth tomorrow could feature a blast from the past, with Orene Ai'i named on the bench. Photo / Getty Images.

Auckland's encounter with Taranaki in New Plymouth tomorrow could feature a blast from the past, with Orene Ai'i named on the bench.

The former sevens star has turned back the clock and is poised to make his first appearance for the province since 2005, providing cover in the five-eighths in the 22-man squad.

Ai'i, who starred on the sevens circuit and also helped the Blues to the 2003 Super Rugby title, played in France and Japan before returning to New Zealand in 2012.

He will get his chance to relive some former glory as Auckland seek to maintain their perfect record.

Coach Wayne Pivac has made five changes to the starting XV that beat Counties Manukau on Wednesday, with a short turnaround and some injury concerns requiring a few sets of fresh legs.

Blues props Sam Prattley and Angus Ta'avao come into the front row in place of Pauliasi Manu and Ofa Tu'ungafasi, while Luke Braid starts at openside ahead of Sean Polwart, who has shouldered a heavy workload over the last few games.

With Junior Poluleuligaga dislocating his shoulder in the 22-20 victory over Counties, Piri Weepu claims the No 9 jersey, while Vince Aso will make his first start for Auckland on the wing in place of George Moala, who has a quad haematoma.

Pivac said playing their third game in seven days posed a big challenge for his side.

"It would have been a lot bigger had we dropped the Bay of Plenty game or the Counties game or both, so getting a couple of wins and not playing as well as we would have liked as a group the guys are pretty determined to get down there and put together an 80 minute performance,'' Pivac said.

"We're against the odds with a three-day turnaround and having to travel down there against a Taranaki team that's hurting. It's a must-win game for them so it's going to be a good occasion.''

Despite Taranaki sitting at the bottom of the ITM Cup Premiership ladder with a solitary win to their name, Pivac was certainly not underestimating them and believed their position on the table belied their ability.

``It's hard to read into Taranaki's performances in that they've played clearly the teams that are in the best form in Wellington and Canterbury and they've lost to both those sides, as has everybody else that has played them.''

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Auckland team to face Taranaki at Yarrow Stadium on Saturday afternoon:

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.

- APNZ

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