Preview: Taranaki v Canterbury

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Sunday, October 12, 2014    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Sunday 12 October, 2.35pm at Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth
Played: 60 1892- 2013
Taranaki wins: 15 | Canterbury wins: 43 | Draws: 2

Squad update: With seven straight wins to their credit, Taranaki’s head coach Colin Cooper has again opted against major changes, with Chris Smylie the only alteration to the starting team.

On the bench Kurt Baker and Lachlan Boshier come onto the pine, resulting in Toa Halafihi and Beaudein Waaka dropping out of the match day squad.

Canterbury Head Coach Scott Robertson has made eight changes to the starting line-up that faced Tasman last weekend.

Alex Hodgman returns to the number one jersey and he’ll pack down alongside Ben Funnell and Nepo Laulala this week. The other change in the forwards is at lock where Scott Barrett has returned from his shoulder injury to pair up with Dominic Bird.

Tom Taylor and Colin Slade have been released by the All Blacks and will play at first five and fullback respectively this week. Wingers Johnny McNicholl and Patrick Osborne are both returning from injury, as is Jack Goodhue who will slot in at centre.

Form: The Amber and Blacks have their own fortune in their hands, to the point where in theory they could even afford a loss and still host a home ITM Cup Premiership eliminator.

However Cooper won’t be keen for this and neither will a Taranaki side that has set the tone throughout the backend of the competition, while there is also the small matter of taking revenge on a Canterbury team that knocked them out of the semi-finals in 2013.

Canterbury, usually so impeccable and so precise, have lost their veil of indestructability, reeling with three straight losses which ensures their quest for a stunning seven straight crowns is going to be fairly difficult.

They boast historical rights in the rivalry, it was only 2012 that the red and blacks put a half century on Taranaki and have registered 43 wins in 60 games, but this will count for little based on recent form.

Last match: Canterbury 30 Taranaki 6, 16.08.13 in Christchurch (ITMC SF)

Last Taranaki win: Taranaki 18 Canterbury 9, 15.09.12 in New Plymouth (ITMC, RS)

Biggest Canterbury score: 51 (51-27), 20.10.12 in Christchurch (ITMC SF)

Biggest Taranaki score: 31 (31-20), 18.09.10 in New Plymouth (ITMC)

Biggest differential: Canterbury by 34 (43-9), 09.09.00 in New Plymouth (NPC)

Key players: A hard working pack has done the business consistently for Cooper’s merry men, Blade Thomson has been one of the standout number eights in the ITM Cup, while Angus Ta’avao, Riki Hoeata and Iopu Iopu-Aso have been unsung heroes.

Marty McKenzie is one of thousands (seemingly) of quality number tens operating throughout New Zealand, while Waisake Naholo and Seta Tamanivalu would back their chances of entering a competition ‘best XV’.

The defending champions for so long have been without an obvious Achilles Heel, but of late the large number of changes appear to have disrupted the team.

Nasi Manu, Matt Todd and Luke Whitelock have remained consistent figures, so their efforts in the loose will be watched.

Colin Slade will play at fullback, resulting in Tom Taylor gaining the starting first five-eighth jersey for Canterbury, and both figures will look to impose themselves after being released from Test responsibilities.