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Preview: Taranaki v Wellington

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Friday, August 14, 2015    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Form: Taranaki finished their preseason matches in curious fashion, putting together an impressive 24-0 lead against Ranfurly Shield holders Hawke’s Bay before they were overrun to lose 24-28.

The side will hope this is a blip heading into the new campaign, after all, they were the benchmark team in 2015, winning the Premiership title while scoring new local records in attack (39 tries scored) and defence (19 conceded).

Wellington will enter this season with a snarl, the team has not hidden the fact that their participation in the Championship – relegated after arguably their worst ever season – has been an unpleasant memory over the last 12 months.

They looked assured when beating Tasman in a warmup clash, and if they can defeat the two unions who contested the Premiership decider over consecutive matches it will be a significant boost coming into the new season.



Saturday 15 August, 2.35pm at Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth
Played: 170, 1894-2014
Wellington wins: 118 | Taranaki wins: 46 | Draws: 5 | Abandoned: 1

Last match: Taranaki 38 Wellington 22, 05.10.14 in Wellington (ITMC)
Last Wellington win: Wellington 29 Taranaki 10, 23.08.13  (ITMC)
Biggest Wellington score: 73 (73-28), 25.09.04 in Wellington (NPC)
Biggest Taranaki score: 46 (46-10), 30.07.00 in New Plymouth (NPC)
Biggest differential: Wellington by 45 (73-28), 25.09.04 in Wellington (NPC)



Squad update: Taranaki Bulls head coach Colin Cooper has named a powerful line-up, with the defending champions expecting a relentless Wellington side hurting from their 2014 relegation.

The amber and blacks have been bolstered by the release of James Broadhurst by the All Blacks. He will partner with Hurricanes team mate Blade Thomson at lock. James Marshall will lead the pack at fullback.

Exciting New Zealand Under-20s halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi will make his first class debut for the Port Taranaki Bulls, following a season-ending injury to Jamison Gibson-Park. Caleb Mawson, Reuben O’Neill, David Ormrod and Latu Vaeno are also on debut and are eager to impress off the bench come Saturday.

The Lions welcome All Black Cory Jane into their starting line-up. Jane will occupy the right wing on Saturday afternoon, after returning from an ankle injury that has kept him on the sideline for the past three weeks.

Ardie Savea and Matt Proctor will also return for their province, after being out with knee and ankle injuries, respectively.

Coach Earl Va’a is confident the line-up he has named to face Taranaki will put together the strong performance they need to kick off their 2015 Championship campaign.

Lock Hoani Matenga and first five-eighth Jonny Bentley are set to make their debuts for Wellington, as will Ben May, James Blackwell and Tomasi Alosio, should they take the field.



Taranaki:

1. Mitchell Graham (12)
2. Rhys Marshall (22)
3. Angus Taavao (12)
4. Blade Thomson (36)
5. James Broadhurst (54)
6. Mitchell Crosswell (20)
7. Berny Hall (22)
8. Iopu Iopu-Aso (7)
9. Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi*
10. Marty McKenzie (12)
11. Kurt Baker (46)
12. Charlie Ngatai (10)
13. Sean Wainui (3)
14. Codey Rei (16)
15. James Marshall (C) (24)

Reserves:
16. Caleb Mawson*
17. Reuben O’Neill*
18. Sione Lea (28)
19. Riki Hoeata (12)
20. Mitchell Brown (7)
21. David Ormrod*
22. Jackson Ormond (40) /Avon Lewis (2)
23. Latu Vaeno*

() = Caps in brackets
*denotes ITM Cup debut

Wellington:

Reggie Goodes
Leni Apisai
Jeffery To’omaga-Allen
Hoani Matenga*
Mark Reddish
Vaea Fifita
Ardie Savea (vc)
Brad Shields (c)
Frae Wilson
Jonny Bentley*
Joe Hill
Shaun Treeby
Matt Proctor
Cory Jane
Jackson Garden-Bachop

Reserves
James O’Reilly
John Schwalger
Ben May*
James Blackwell*
Greg Foe
Tomasi Palu
Wes Goosen
Tomasi Alosio*

*On debut for Wellington.



Key players: Taranaki comes into 2015 with immense stability, 14 of the team that will take the field were involved in last year’s successful Premiership campaign.

Halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi is the only debutant in the starting outfit and the only player to take the field first up for Taranaki who does not boast a Premiership ring.

Captain James Marshall said the team has big goals for the season ahead, with the solidity across the playing roster ensuring that head coach Colin Cooper is able to make sure there is clarity across the board.

The inclusion of All Blacks lock James Broadhurst adds some clout to the pack, other experienced campaigners like Rhys Marshall and Blade Thomson will be needed to quell Wellington’s fire.

The Lions have nine Investec Super Rugby players in their run on XV, Reggie Goodes and Jeff To’omaga-Allen provide the power, while the back row looks to be one of the best in the competition on paper – Ardie Savea and Brad Shield will also lead the team.

Cory Janes’ inclusion is notable as this could be his last chance to crack Steve Hansen’s final Rugby World Cup squad, his presence also ensures there is experience in the back division.

Another man to watch will be first five-eighth Jonny Bentley, Wellington like to play with an explosive style but the playmaker has been running on fields in Cornwall and Gloucester so how he performs on a hard track will be intriguing.