Rugby: Auckland well-equipped for Canterbury challenge

Auckland's Liaki Moli. Photo NZPA / David Rowland.
Auckland's Liaki Moli. Photo NZPA / David Rowland.

Auckland look well-equipped in their pack ahead of tonight's showdown with Canterbury in Christchurch.

The Premiership clash will be a replay of the 2015 final, won 25-23 by Canterbury and, with 14 Super Rugby players in the 23, Auckland will not be awed by this encounter.

The 2015 decider, the last first-class outing for both sides, has not been a talking point in the Auckland camp this week.

"We've focused on what's ahead and not looking back too much. It'll be a battle down there anyway," says coach Nick White.

What has been talked about is how swiftly his players can adapt to the new breakdown laws. They were not a huge factor in the Mitre 10 Cup opener on Thursday night in Albany.

"We still need to go up a bit, because we gave away some dumb penalties (last week against Bay of Plenty).

It's in the intensity of the battle that the guys forget the accuracy, but hopefully we'll be alright," White says. Eight of his squad have still not played under the new laws, including the Ioane brothers.

They only flew back into the country on Tuesday after their unsuccessful Olympic sojourn and drove straight to training, which is a good sign for White.

A shortage of midfielders and wings due to injury means Rieko Ioane will run out at centre, partnering Hurricane Vince Aso, while there are debuts for Stacey Ili and Pryor Collier on the flanks, though both played most of their club footy at centre.

Akira Ioane, one of the stars of the 2015 campaign, where he missed just one tackle, will be injected off the bench, partly due to the fact he has yet to play under the new breakdown laws.

Blake Gibson's hard luck with injury, this time with a thumb fracture, means he will be on ice for another few weeks. In comes Joe Edwards to the No 7 jersey, not your typical openside, but that should not matter a lot against a Canterbury side minus Matt Todd and in a match operating under the new laws.

Auckland can call on no less than five lineout options, via the two locks and all the loose trio. They might need them all to combat the likes of All Blacks Dominic Bird and Luke Romano.

Liaki Moli will win his 50th cap for Auckland, a team he has always fronted for in an injury-plagued career.

Crusader Leon Fukofuka has won the No 9 jersey ahead of Jono Hickey, meaning captain Simon Hickey will take the shots at goal, at least from the get-go.

Lock Michael Fatialofa, after a breakout season with the Hurricanes, will come off the bench, as will two Auckland debutants in former Magpies first five Tyrone Elkington-MacDonald, the leading points scorer in Auckland club rugby, and Tongan and former Northland five-eighths Latiume Fosita.

Kickoff is at 7.35pm with Mike Fraser talking the whistle.

Canterbury: Jordie Barrett, Johnny McNicholl, Jack Goodhue, Rob Thompson, Nathan Earle, Richie Mo'unga, Mitch Drummond, Luke Whitelock (c), Billy Harmon, Reed Prinsep, Dominic Bird, Scott Barrett, Siate Tokolahi, Ben Funnell, Alex Hodgman; Reserves: Nathan Vella, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Oli Jager, Luke Romano, Jed Brown, Jack Stratton, Inga Finau, Ben Volavola

Auckland: Melani Nanai, Stacey Ili, Rieko Ioane, Vince Aso, Pryor Collier, Simon Hickey (c), Leon Fukofuka, Steven Luatua, Joe Edwards, Taleni Seu, Liaki Moli, Scott Scrafton, Isi Tu'ungafasi, Greg Pleasants-Tate, Sam Prattley; Reserves: Kurt Eklund, Tom McHugh, Marcel Renata, Michael Fatialofa, Akira Ioane, Jono Hickey, Tyrone Elkington-MacDonald, Latiume Fosita

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