Rugby: Counties get Super talent back for Taranaki clash

Counties Maunkau flyer Toni Pulu will return to Mitre 10 Cup action against Taranaki. Photo / www.photosport.co.nz
Counties Maunkau flyer Toni Pulu will return to Mitre 10 Cup action against Taranaki. Photo / www.photosport.co.nz

Toni Pulu is back for the Steelers.

The 26-year-old Chiefs wing returns from a broken finger via the bench for Counties Manukau as they face Taranaki tomorrow night in a crucial Premiership clash.

After a five-day turnaround, there are a few changes to the side that narrowly lost to Wellington last Friday night. Matt Vaai comes into the starting 15 at blindside flanker, with Jimmy Tupou shifting back to lock. Sione Anga'aelangi takes the hooker spot on the pine, with prop Sean Paranihi coming into the 23.

Steelers coach Darryl Suasua said the majority of the side pulled up okay after the 28-27 loss to Wellington, but there are a couple of minor niggles and they are resting lock Viliame Rarasea.

"Viliame could have played, but we didn't want to risk him with his big workload. Matt Vaai missed most of the season with a shoulder reconstruction, so he was always a quality player that we knew was around, and he has taken his chance at training over the last few weeks, where he has been brought in as injury cover.

"It's great that Toni Pulu is back in the mix this week. He has been working really hard and champing at the bit. He broke his finger and was expected to be out for the whole season, but he has recovered quicker than the surgeons thought he would."

Suasua is expecting Taranaki, fourth on the Premiership table, one place above the Steelers, to be a huge challenge.

"I believe as a team they are one of the best in this competition. They play really well as a team and they don't seem to have a lot of weaknesses. They appear to be really well drilled and coached and I think that is why they are winning their games and why they are always at the top."

Taranaki have also made several changes from the side that beat Southland last Thursday. Last season's Steeler Johnny Fa'auli will suit up in the No 12 jersey.

Counties Manukau Steelers: Luteru Laulala, Sione Molia, Sam Vaka, Cardiff Vaega, Sherwin Stowers, Piers Francis, August Pulu (c), So'otala Fa'aso'o, Jordan Taufua, Matt Vaai, Jimmy Tupou (c), Matiaha Martin, Kalolo Tuiloma, Gafatasi Sua, Sean Bagshaw; Reserves: Sione Anga'aelangi, Sean Paranihi, Sione Faletau, Cameron Skelton, Viliami Taulani, Richard Judd, Joe Reynolds, Toni Pulu

Taranaki: Stephen Perofeta, Beaudein Waaka, Sean Wainui, Johnny Fa'auli, Declan O'Donnell, Marty McKenzie, Kylem O'Donnell, Toa Halafihi, Lachlan Boshier, Mitch Crosswell (c), Leighton Price, Leon Power, Ryan Cocker, Rhys Marshall, Mitchell Graham; Reserves: Harry Jones, Reuben O'Neill, Asaeli Sorovaki, Mitchell Brown, Iopu Iopu-Aso, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Jackson Ormond, Manasa Mataele

- NZ Herald

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