Preview: Bay of Plenty v Taranaki

Date published: August 24 2012

Bay of Plenty have a tough ITM Cup opener on their hands when they take on Taranaki at Baypark Stadium on Saturday.

Bay of Plenty have a tough ITM Cup opener on their hands when they take on Taranaki at Baypark Stadium on Saturday.

The Steamers were the surprise package of 2011, mostly due to their impressive start to the season. But they started to slide towards the business end and were a win away from a place in the final – finishing fourth overall.

Taranaki finished third – their failure to bag bonus points also cost them dearly in a hotly contested top four.

With lessons learned, both sides will now be looking to go one better in 2012 and open their campaign with an-all important win.

While Taranaki currently hold the Ranfurly Shield, it won't be on the line with challenges only taking place within the holders' home games.

On paper, Taranaki look the stronger of the two. The visitors have a plethora of Super Rugby players in their ranks and are without a doubt the most experienced squad in the competition.

Outside pivot Beauden Barrett, Taranaki coach Colin Cooper has an embarrassment of riches with Jayden Hayward, Kurt Baker and All Black-in-waiting Andre Taylor itching to rack up the tries.

In the forwards, Hurricanes lock pair Jason Eaton and James Broadhurst will provide plenty of grunt in the engine room, while Chiefs captain Craig Clarke will be available when he recovers from his knee injury. Throw Jarrad Hoeata into the mix, with Scott Waldrom waiting to make an impact off the bench, and you've got yourself a dangerous Amber and Black outfit.

The Steamers should lack nothing in the line-outs though, with Callum Retallick and Leon Power locking the scrum. The loss of Colin Bourke is a major blow though, but they still have quality loose forwards to call upon to do the business.

And when new coach Kevin Schuler is forced to leave Tanerau Latimer on the bench, one feels the Bay still believe they have what it takes to ruffle a few feathers again this year.

In the backs, BoP have plenty of pace out wide with Lelia Masaga and New Zealand Sevens' player Jack Wilson waiting in the wings. Both have pace to burn and are quality finishers.

In last season's match-up with Taranaki, the Bay tasted a narrow 39-33 loss.

Prediction: Bay of Plenty to run their visitors close before the Steamers run out of, er, steam (sorry – ed). Taranaki by 9!

The teams:

Bay of Plenty: 15 Kendrick Lynn, 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Mafi Kefu, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Jack Wilson, 10 Chris Noakes, 9 Jamie Nutbrown (c), 8 Carl Axtens, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Warren Lippi-Smith, 5 Leon Power, 4 Culum Retallick, 3 Tristan Moran, 2 Dan Perrin, 1 Greg Pleasants-Tate.
Replacements: 16 John Paraenga, 17 Mike Kainga, 18 Keepa Mewett, 19 Tanerau Latimer, 20 Lewis Hancock, 21 Nick McCashin, 22 Lance MacDonald.

Taranaki: 15 Andre Taylor, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Kurt Baker, 12 Jayden Hayward, 11 Frazier Climo, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Blade Thomson, 7 Chris Walker, 6 Jarrad Hoeata, 5 Jason Eaton (c), 4 James Broadhurst, 3 Michael Bent, 2 Timo Tutavaha, 1 Chris King.
Replacements: 16 Sione Lea, 17 Carl Carmichael, 18 Kane Barrett, 19 Scott Waldrom, 20 Kylem O'Donnell, 21 James Marshall, 22 Willie Rickards.

Referee: Kane McBride