Rugby: Auckland hoping for turnaround against Taranaki

By Campbell Burnes

Akira Ioane will move back into the number eight jersey against Taranaki this weekend. Photo / photosport
Akira Ioane will move back into the number eight jersey against Taranaki this weekend. Photo / photosport

The acid will go squarely on the Auckland pack for tomorrow night's virtual Premiership quarter-final in New Plymouth.

Another passive forwards effort such as that displayed in the 49-31 loss to Tasman could have Auckland missing the playoffs for the first time since 2011, which would be head-scratching given the quality, on paper, of their roster. But they are again missing the injured Greg Pleasants-Tate, Blake Gibson and Joe Edwards, plus their fringe All Blacks.

Those fringe All Blacks, who now include Malakai Fekitoa, might have been a chance to play had the fixture been on the weekend, but they only arrived back from South Africa on Monday night. Next week, should Auckland reach the semifinals, may see some filter back into Mitre 10 Cup action.

There was a further piece of bad news when Liaki Moli was ruled out after a training head knock, meaning Josh Kaifa comes in at No 7, and Akira Ioane (8) and Steven Luatua (6) move into their favoured positions.

2012 NZ Schools loose forward Sinclair Dominikovich-Murray may get his first run of the season off the bench.

Auckland have endured several days of soul-searching and one would expect a response after Tasman battered them at set-piece and at the breakdown.

"We got out-worked, I don't really like saying out-passioned, but we did at the breakdown contest. It is hard to explain going from one extreme to the other in five days, from beating Otago to the Tasman (display). It was really disappointing," says Auckland coach Nick White.

Now the pressure really goes on against a Taranaki side that put 50 on the Lions in Wellington on Sunday. Colin Cooper's charges know a victory could seal a home semifinal, so motivation and confidence will be high. Their threats start with the industrious pack, backed up by the mercurial talents of Marty McKenzie, who was on fire on Sunday, a dangerous midfield of former St Kentigern College First XV midfielders Johnny Fa'auli and Seta Tamanivalu, and the free-ranging skills of Stephen Perofeta from fullback.

"They're a good side. Coops does a great job with them. They have workers in the pack and play good, basic footy. They don't overplay it too much, so our one on one defence has got to be a lot better," says White.

Taranaki will have some quality off the bench tomorrow night with former NZ Under 20s halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi set to play his blazer (20th) game, and Sean Wainui and Latu Vaeno also in the mix.

Auckland are in the invidious position of having lost to four of their five Premiership opponents, all of whom are in the semifinal race. This means that should they finish equal with any of those sides, in particular Waikato, Counties Manukau and Tasman, that side will place ahead of them for any tiebreak required to seal semifinal passage.

White and Auckland will be cheering for North Harbour (tonight), hoping to win in New Plymouth, and then perhaps cheering on Canterbury (to beat Counties Manukau) and Southland (to beat Tasman). It could be a nerve-jangly few days for one of the Premiership favourites at the start of the season.

*Live commentary of this match is on Radio Sport and iHeart Radio from 7.35pm on Thursday.

Taranaki: Stephen Perofeta, Declan O'Donnell, Seta Tamanivalu, Johnny Fa'auli, Beaudein Waaka, Marty McKenzie, Kylem O'Donnell, Toa Halafihi, Mitch Crosswell (c), Mitch Brown, Leighton Price, Ben Matwijow, Ryan Cocker, Rhys Marshall, Mitchell Graham; Reserves: Sione Lea, Jared Proffit, Reuben O'Neill, Lachlan Boshier, Adrian Wyrill, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Sean Wainui, Latu Vaeno

Auckland: Melani Nanai, Lolagi Visinia, Rieko Ioane, Vince Aso, Pryor Collier, Simon Hickey (c), Leon Fukofuka, Akira Ioane, Josh Kaifa, Steven Luatua, Michael Fatialofa, Scott Scrafton, Marcel Renata, Kurt Eklund, Sam Prattley; Reserves: Blake Hill, Tom McHugh, Isi Tu'ungafasi, Ben Nee Nee, Sinclair Dominikovich-Murray, Jono Hickey, Liam Steel, Latiume Fosita

Mitre 10 Cup Premiership
Taranaki v Auckland
Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth
Thursday, 7.35pm

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