Preview: Canterbury v Taranaki

Date published: August 15 2013

Canterbury begin their title defence at home to Taranaki on Friday in a clash that will see plenty of promising young players in action.

ITM Cup champions Canterbury begin their title defence at home to Taranaki on Friday in a clash that will see plenty of promising young players in action.

Head coach Scott Robertson hands first starts to Matt Symons, Milford Keresoma, Rob Thompson and Jamie Verran while Sione Faletau, Richie Mo'unga and Marty Swart may also get their first Canterbury cap if they come off the bench.

Symons, Keresoma, and Faletau are three of the new caps in the 2013 squad named earlier this month, whereas Thompson, Verran, Mo'unga and Swart have been brought in from the wider squad.

Despite being without a host of forwards, Canterbury are still able to name a strong pack that sees Paea Fa'anunu and Nepo Laulala as props and Ben Funnell at hooker. In the back-row, Luke Whitelock, Matt Todd and Jordan Taufua are the impressive combination.

Willi Heinz will make his debut as Canterbury captain, with George Whitelock being rested.

Players unavailable for selection due to injury include: Dominic Bird (pectoral), Corey Flynn (knee), Robbie Fruean (heart surgery), Nasi Manu (foot), Johnny McNicholl (leg), Colin Slade (hamstring), Codie Taylor (pectoral) and Tom Taylor (knee).

“We are fortunate to have good depth in most positions in this squad. We may be missing some of our more experienced players this week, but I am sure that the new players will take this opportunity with both hands and really rise to the challenge,” Robertson said.

“In saying that, we are very aware of just how tough this Taranaki side can be. They beat us during pool play last year when the Ranfurly Shield was at stake, and when we squared off against them in the 2012 semi-final they forced us into overtime to secure the win.

“If Friday night's game is anywhere near as nail-biting as that semi-final, fans will be in for an awesome display of provincial rugby.”

Friday's game will be the first time the two teams have met since the exhilarating 2012 semi-final in Christchurch, which saw Taranaki narrowly miss out to Canterbury.

The 'Naki's 22-man side features equal mix experience and youthful agility with several players donning the amber and black jersey for the first time. Beaudein Waaka will debut at fly-half, while Daniel Brooks and Rhys Marshall look to earn their first caps off the bench.

Experienced campaigners Doug Tietjens and Mitchell Crosswell could also make their first appearances in Taranaki colours having been named on the bench for the season opener.

The teams:

Canterbury: 15 Jamie Verran, 14 Patrick Osborne, 13 Adam Whitelock, 12 Rob Thompson, 11 Milford Keresoma, 10 Tyler Bleyendaal, 9 Willi Heinz, 8 Jordan Taufua, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Luke Whitelock, 5 Luke Katene, 4 Matt Symons, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Paea Fa'anunu.
Replacements: 16 Marcel Cummings-Toone, 17 Sione Faletau, 18 Joel Everson, 19 Jed Brown, 20 Andrew Ellis, 21 Richie Mo'unga, 22 Marty Swart.

Taranaki: 15 Kurt Baker, 14 Jackson Ormond, 13 Andre Taylor, 12 Isaia Tuifua, 11 Waisake Naholo, 10 Beaudein Waaka, 9 Chris Smylie, 8 Blade Thomson, 7 Berny Hall, 6 Kane Barrett, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Shane Cleaver, 2 Timo Tutavaha, 1 Carl Carmichael.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Sione Lea, 18 Mitchell Crosswell, 19 Doug Tietjens, 20 Jamison Gibson-Park, 21 Daniel Brooks, 22 Seta Tamanivalu.

Date: Friday, August 16
Kick-off: 19:35 local (08:35 BST, 07:35 GMT)
Venue: AMI Stadium
Referee: Shane McDermot