A few days ago they travelled to Auckland and took five points from North Harbour. The big question is, can the Tasman Mako repeat the dose in the City of Sails on Friday evening?
BY PETER JONES [Marlborough App]This week their opponents are Auckland, 16-time winners of the NPC crown and a traditional powerhouse of the national game.
Adding to the challenge is the fact Auckland bring a 3-0 record into the match, the same as Tasman, with both sides locked at the top of the Mitre 10 Cup premiership table.
Although the Mako got through the Harbour clash without serious injury, they have lost two prominent players to the All Blacks camp, Shannon Frizell and Tim Perry joining up with the men in black in Nelson.
Perry’s absence is covered by the return of veteran Wyatt Crockett to the front row, while Ethan Blackadder shifts to No 8, replacing Frizell, with Sione Havili wearing the No 6 shirt.
The only other change up front sees hooker Ray Niuia earning his first start, pushing regular rake Andrew Makalio to the bench. He is joined there by utility forward Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta who makes his first appearance of the NPC season.
The potent backline, that cut such merry capers against Harbour, remains almost intact, the only change coming at centre where Alex Nankivell is rotated in for Levi Aumua.
Head coach Leon MacDonald said the changes were made with certain players’ workloads in mind.
"Some guys have had big minutes. Andrew [Makalio] played 80 minutes last week and we need both our hookers functioning well so that allows Ray [Niuia] a chance to start … he’s been good off the bench and a whole week in the saddle will allow him settle into the set piece work. We have also brought Crocky [Wyatt Crockett] back into the starting team for the first time since round one.
"Levi has been playing a lot of minutes too, with Alex doing a good job off the bench, so it will be a change in roles for them.”
Blackadder will be the fourth player to wear the eight jersey in consecutive weeks, and although MacDonald said they would have preferred to have left him on the side of the scrum he is confident the hard-nosed workhorse will do the job. It is expected that another loose forward will be added to the squad in the coming days to cover for injuries.
MacDonald said the team had a good training on Monday, despite their flight back from Auckland on Sunday being diverted and it taking most of the day for them to get home. "There’s a really good buzz in the camp and they were straight away into their work and looking forward to Auckland.”
The Mako’s recent record against Auckland has been positive, beating the Blue and Whites 31-18 at Trafalgar Park last year, and MacDonald said it was a game the players especially looked forward to.
"It’s one of those games … Canterbury and Auckland – and Eden Park is the home of rugby in New Zealand, so it’s not hard to get up for a top-of-the-table clash. It will be another big occasion.”
Teams for Friday’s game, which kicks off at 7.45pm.
Mako team: 1 Wyatt Crockett, 2 Ray Niuia, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 4 Pari Pari Parkinson, 5 Quinten Strange, 6 Sione Havili, 7 Jed Brown, 8 Ethan Blackadder; 9 Finlay Christie, 10 Mitchell Hunt, 11 Solomon Alaimalo, 12 David Havili (captain), 13 Alex Nankivell, 14 Tima Faingaanuku, 15 Will Jordan.
Reserves: Andrew Makalio, Ryan Coxon, Isaac Salmon, Mike Curry, Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta, Jack Grooby, Tim O’Malley, Levi Aumua.
Possible Auckland team: Sam Prattley, Robbie Abel, Marcel Renata, Fa’atiga Lemalu, Jack Whetton, Dalton Papali’I, Blake Gibson (captain),Akira Ioane; Leon Fukofuka, Harry Plummer, Salesi Rayasi, TJ Faiane, Tumua Manu, Melani Nanai, Jordan Trainor.
Reserves: Mike Sosene-Feagai, Jarred Adams, Marco Fepulea’I, Evan Olmstead, Hoskins Sotutu, Jonathan Ruru, Jacob Umaga, Caleb Clarke.