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All Blacks bolster Auckland for quarter-final showdown with Harbour

By Tom Vinicombe
Photo: Derek Morrison / www.photosport.nz

Auckland have fought their way to an NPC quarter-final against North Harbour but have paid a heavy price and will be without a slew of key players on Friday evening.

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Outside backs Salesi Rayasi, Bryce Heem, Zarn Sullivan and Taniela Tele’a are all unavailable for the fixture while Auckland will also have to manage without Adrian Choat, Hamdahn Tuipulotu, Niko Jones and Jamie Lane.

Somehow, however, they’ve still managed to name one of their most formidable line-ups of the year – thanks in no small part to the availability of two key All Blacks.

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Patrick Tuipulotu and Akira Ioane will make their first provincial appearances of the season when they run out in the Auckland forward pack for Friday’s Battle of the Bridge rematch, adding some crucial experience for the knockout fixture.

With Alex Hodgman and Angus Ta’avao also packing down in the scrum – the latter playing his 50th match for Auckland – and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck once again lining up on the wing, the visiting side will have plenty of firepower at their disposal.

For Tuipulotu, the sudden death clash will mark just his second appearance on New Zealand soil this year, having spent the Super Rugby Pacific season on sabbatical in Japan. Tuipulotu was rushed into the All Blacks match-day squad for the second of their July Tests with Ireland after Josh Lord was ruled out for the year and Sam Whitelock and Tupou Vaa’i were invalided with Covid, playing six minutes off the bench. Friday’s derby with Harbour will mark Tuipulotu’s first run-on appearance of the season, with the 29-year-old sidelined through injury for the last two months.

Ioane, on the other hand, has clocked up some reasonable minutes with the All Blacks following on from an injury-affected season with the Blues where he featured in seven of their last eight matches. Although Shannon Frizell has ostensibly established himself as New Zealand’s first-choice blindside flanker this year, Ioane six appearances in the black jersey and started in their NZ’s most recent match, a 26-point thumping of the Wallabies at Eden Park.

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Complementing the four All Blacks selected in the forward pack for Friday’s fixture are hooker Soane Vikena, lock Hamish Dalzell and back-rowers Blake Gibson and Jackson Pugh.

In the backs, Taufa Funaki will combine with Harry Plummer to lead Auckland around the park while Corey Evans and AJ Lam will resume their early-season partnership in the midfield. Tuivasa-Sheck, Tomas Aoke and Jordan Trainor round out the starting line-up.

Auckland Coach Alama Ieremia believes his men will take confidence into the match following a final-round comeback win over Taranaki as well as a 36-26 regular season victory over North Harbour earlier in their campaign.

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“We have taken some good points out of the second half of last weekend, and we need to channel some of that momentum into this game.

“We have to take some confidence from our result at the start of the season against North Harbour, but they have come a long way since the opening round, and they showed that last week against Southland.”

Kick-off is at 7:05 pm from North Harbour Stadium on Friday night.

Auckland: Jordan Trainor, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, AJ Lam, Corey Evans, Tomas Aoke, Harry Plummer (c), Taufa Funaki, Jackson Pugh, Blake Gibson, Akira Ioane, Hamish Dalzell, Patrick Tuipulotu, Angus Ta’avao, Soane Vikena, Alex Hodgman. Reserves: Leni Apisai, Jordan Lay, Marcel Renata, Josh Beehre, Terrell Peita, Manu Paea, Simon Hickey, Jock McKenzie.

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