Manawatu v Auckland
Palmerston North, 7.35pm tomorrow
Auckland have one eye on their Ranfurly Shield challenge as they head away for what could be an awkward match against Manawatu tomorrow.
Six days after this eighth round clash in the ITM Cup, Auckland will challenge Southland for the famous Log O' Wood in Invercargill.
That taxing travel and playing schedule has persuaded coach Mark Anscombe to tinker with his combinations in a bid to find the right recipe for results while refreshing his squad. He has made four changes to his starting XV with three new forwards and Dave Thomas returning to the wing.
Prop Tevita Mailau, lock Kurtis Haiu and flanker Peter Saili return to the pack with a bench spot for Tom McCartney while Andrew van der Heijden is in the reserves after being cleared of stamping on Wellington prop Neemia Tialata last Saturday. Adam Kleeberger drops out of the squad.
Last season captain Benson Stanley has returned from All Black duty to the bench where national under 20 flanker Sean Polwart is poised to claim his first cap for Auckland.
Anscombe acknowledges the dangers in altering a few players as Manawatu have been a far more dangerous foe at home than on the road.
"We know a lot of their players, we know their coaches and we're well aware that they'll be really up for this game and wanting to give their supporters something to cherish for the year," Anscombe said.
MANAWATU v AUCKLAND
Francis Bryant (c)
Manawatu reserves: Sean O'Connor, Karl Haitana, Reece Robinson, James Oliver, Karl Bryson, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Lote Raikabula.
Daniel Braid (c)
Auckland reserves: Tom McCartney, Angus Ta'avao, Andrew Van der Heijden, Sean Polwart, Brenton Helleur, Benson Stanley, Gareth Anscombe.