Rugby: Auckland make four changes for Northland clash

By Campbell Burnes

Auckland are looking to bounce back from a poor start to the season. Photosport
Auckland are looking to bounce back from a poor start to the season. Photosport

Auckland have made four changes to their starting line-up as they attempt to redeem themselves for Friday's night's Mitre 10 Cup crossover clash with Northland at Eden Park.

As Robbie Deans himself used to say, we should "expect a response" as Auckland rethink their attitude and strategy after copping a 43-3 hiding at the hands of Canterbury last Saturday.

Tackling was the major issue, as opposed to the effects of the breakdown law trials, and coach Nick White did not need to look at the defensive stats to know Auckland had simply not made one on one tackles on a consistent basis.

"Canterbury were always going to be up, especially at home," says White. "We got off the line really well, but just missed tackles and there's not really any excuse for that, especially with the players we've got.

"We were always going to give away 2-3 penalties at the breakdown with the Super boys coming back with the new rules, but we gave away another 4-5 on top of that, which cost us big-time."

White is expecting Northland to present a far sterner test than in 2015, when Auckland crushed the Taniwha 64-21 at Eden Park. Led by an outstanding display by loose forward Kara Pryor, Northland showed plenty on attack before losing narrowly 34-27 to Manawatu in Whangarei.

"They played well, so we'll be on the back foot if we miss our tackles again. It'll be good to hold onto the ball for some phases to put them under pressure."

Lolagi Visinia returns from the illness that ruled him out of last month's Gallaher Shield club final, and will wear the No 14 jersey, while Vince Aso moves out one to replace Rieko Ioane, with the All Blacks. Manukau's Calvary Fonoti, a multi-skilled footballer, will play at second five, where he offers a different kicking and passing option.

Kurt Eklund will start at hooker with Greg Pleasants-Tate nursing a niggle, while Akira Ioane will don the unfamiliar No 7 jersey in place of Joe Edwards. White says this should not change how the older Ioane plays too much, though certain set-piece requirements will need to be adhered to.

Manukau loose forward Josh Kaifa and College Rifles wing Joe Ravouvou are in line to make their debuts off the bench.

Friday night's kickoff is at the slightly later time of 7.45pm.

Auckland team to play Northland: Melani Nanai, Lolagi Visinia, Vince Aso, Calvary Fonoti, Pryor Collier, Simon Hickey (c), Leon Fukofuka, Steven Luatua, Akira Ioane, Taleni Seu, Liaki Moli, Scott Scrafton, Isi Tu'ungafasi, Kurt Eklund, Sam Prattley; Reserves: Greg Pleasants-Tate, Tom McHugh, Marcel Renata, Josh Kaifa, Joe Edwards, Jono Hickey, Latiume Fosita, Joe Ravouvou

- NZ Herald

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