There are three changes to Auckland’s starting XV as it seeks to end the season on a high against Canterbury at Eden Park in tonight’s Mitre 10 Cup Premiership clash.
Centre George Moala and hooker Greg Pleasants-Tate return, while teenaged first five Harry Plummer makes his starting debut after two outings off the bench. Versatile young Marist forward Hoskins Sotutu, son of former Auckland back Waisake Sotutu, could potentially debut off the pine, covering two loose forward positions. He was prominent for the championship-winning Auckland Under 19s last month and even featured for Auckland B a fortnight ago.
“Harry has been pretty solid off the bench. Tyrone (Elkington-MacDonald) was touch and go for Friday, so instead of waiting we have given Harry the opportunity. I think he’ll do a good job, get a taste of it and be ready to fly next year,” says head coach Nick White.
“There’s seven or eight NZ Under 20s players and others who will probably make it next year, so there is the makings of a good team for the future.”
Replacement No 10 Tyrone Elkington-MacDonald needs to pass a fitness test at the warm-up tomorrow. Should he not do so, Tongan international Latiume Fosita will come onto the bench, where he could become the sixth player this season to reach his blazer (14th) game.
Right wing Vince Aso, who has shifted back to the flanks to accommodate Moala’s return, and tighthead prop Marcel Renata will be the only players to have started every match for Auckland in 2017, a stark indication of the high injury toll (necessitating the use of no less than 46 players) that has troubled the side throughout the season.
Patrick Tuipulotu and Jerome Kaino were not released by the All Blacks.
“Auckland versus Canterbury in its own right is a massive game. It’s a fantastic challenge for our group. Beating them at home would be great,” says White.
“Some of our guys don’t have contracts for next year, so if they can finish on a positive note, that would be great for them and the union moving forward.”
This is the 100th encounter since 1883 between the two most successful provinces in New Zealand rugby history. Incredibly, the ledger stands at 47 wins apiece with five draws. Auckland’s last win over its old foe came back in 2013, a 39-19 result at the same venue. The Supporters’ Clubs Trophy is up for grabs.
Victory for the home side on Friday will guarantee Premiership status for 2018, while Canterbury is still searching for confirmation of a home semifinal berth heading into the playoffs.
“They’ll be frustrated with what happened last week (losing the Shield), but again, it is the old Auckland-Canterbury thing, they’ll want to get into us. It’s been awhile since we’ve beaten them. It’s all in front of us,” adds White.
A reunion of the 2007 Auckland team, which won the old Air New Zealand Cup, will take place tonight. That side also won the Ranfurly Shield in a rare unbeaten season. Physio Mark Plummer, White – who was a prop in that squad – and Kaino are survivors from that team still involved in the 2017 group.
Auckland match-day 23 for Canterbury
Friday October 13, 7.35pm, Eden Park:
15 Melani Nanai (Manukau, 23)
14 Vince Aso (Ponsonby, 37)
13 George Moala (Grammar TEC, 52)
12 TJ Faiane (Pakuranga, 16, c)
11 Joe Ravouvou (College Rifles, 7)
10 Harry Plummer (Grammar TEC, 2)
9 Jono Hickey (Grammar TEC, 31)
8 Akira Ioane (Ponsonby, 26)
7 Blake Gibson (Ponsonby, 20)
6 Taleni Seu (Grammar TEC, 20)
5 Ben Nee-Nee (Pakuranga, 14)
4 Samuel Slade (Ponsonby, 5)
3 Marcel Renata (University, 20)
2 Greg Pleasants-Tate (Ponsonby, 24)
1 Sam Prattley (Pakuranga, 42)
16 Kurt Eklund (University, 31)
17 Isi Tu’ungafasi (Suburbs, 19)
18 Dexter Fa’amoana (College Rifles, 4)
19 Hoskins Sotutu (Marist, 0) +
20 Dalton Papali’i (Pakuranga, 3)
21 Nico Costa (Eden, 2)
22 Jordan Trainor (Ponsonby, 7)
23 Tyrone Elkington-MacDonald (University, 9)/Latiume Fosita (Mt Wellington, 13)
+Potential Auckland debut
Injured/unavailable: Tom McHugh (season), Jamason Fa’anana-Shultz (season), Scott Scrafton (season), Leon Fukofuka (season), Michael Fatialofa (season), Daniel Bowden, Malakai Fekitoa, Jamie Lane, Caleb Clarke, Salesi Rayasi, Lyndon Dunshea, Sinclair Dominikovich-Murray
All Blacks: Rieko Ioane, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Jerome Kaino, Patrick Tuipulotu