While the likes of Tasman, Waikato and Canterbury have all said farewell to their contingents of national representatives for the coming weekend, Taranaki will have at least one All Black to call on in their first-up Ranfurly Shield Defence against Otago.
Tupou Vaa’i, the youngest member of Ian Foster’s All Blacks squad, has been released to play for Taranaki on Sunday. With fewer than 20 professional matches of rugby under his belt, Foster and his fellow selectors would likely want to see the 20-year-old get as many appearances under his belt as possible in the lead up to the Bledisloe Cup series next month.
Beauden and Jordie Barrett, however, won’t be available for the match – though Beauden’s absence could be as much to do with the recent birth of his first child.
Taranaki head coach Willie Rickards will at least be able to call on Blues playmaker Stephen Perofeta for the first time this season. Perofeta injured his foot prior to the start of Super Rugby Aotearoa, which saw All Blacks legend Dan Carter called into the Blues squad.
Perofeta will slot in at fullback while Jayson Potroz takes over at first five to compensate for the Bulls’ lost Barretts.
Taranaki captain Mitchell Brown, who sat out last weekend’s victory in Christchurch with a hamstring injury, remains absent from the side. His omissions allows the Boshier brothers, Lachlan and Kaylum, to continue building on their impressive combination from last weekend, alongside the experienced Mitch Crosswell.
The only other changes to the side come in the front row, with the Chiefs pairing of hooker Bradley Slater and prop Reuben O’Neill taking over from Hurricanes teammates Ricky Riccitelli and Ben May. Former Chief Fin Hoeata also gets a chance to make run out for the first time this year after a slew of unfortunate injuries.
“It has not been hard to bring the squad back to a grounded level,” Rickards said ahead of the match.
“We realise the magnitude of the challenge we will face from Otago and we are all really looking forward to meeting that in front of our home fans. The prospect of a full house and a real atmosphere has everyone in our group really excited.”
The Premiership/Championship split of the Mitre 10 Cup means that Otago and Taranaki have clashed just three times in the last decade.
Last year, after Otago took the Shield off Waikato at the end of 2018, Taranaki mounted an unsuccessful challenge in Dunedin.
This year, Taranaki are the holders, and won’t want to give up the Shield after just one week in their possession.
Sunday’s match kicks off at 2:05pm NZT from Inglewood.
Taranaki: Stephen Perofeta, Jacob Ratumaitavuk-Kneepkens, Sean Wainui, Teihorangi Walden (c), Lewis Ormond, Jason Potroz, Lisati Milo-Harris, Kaylum Boshier, Lachlan Boshier, Mitch Crosswell, Tupou Vaa’i, Josh Lord, Reuben O’Neill, Bradley Slater, Jared Proffit. Reserves: Ricky Riccitelli, Chris Grawler, Donald Brighouse, Fin Hoeata, Tom Florence, Kylem O’Donnell, Daniel Waite, Brayton Northcott-Hill.
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