There is just one change to the Auckland starting XV as they kick off their home Mitre 10 Cup programme this Saturday at Eden Park against old foes the Northland Taniwha in a crossover clash.
Akira Ioane’s promotion to the All Blacks squad for the Bledisloe Cup test in Dunedin means Blake Gibson shifts to No 8 for his blazer (14th) game, while University loose forward Sinclair Dominikovich-Murray will take the openside flanker berth in his first outing for the union since 2015.
Replacement prop Isi Tu’ungafasi will likely earn his blazer game too off the pine.
“This could be a good opportunity for Blake’s development, not just having a No 7 on his back,” says Auckland head coach Nick White.
“He’s been in and out of the team with injury in the last two years, but he’s a bloody good player and developing into a leader.
“It’s a big year for Isi. He needs to take his opportunity and I’m sure he will. I hope it’s one to remember for both these boys.”
Dominikovich-Murray, a New Zealand Universities rep, is coming off a strong club season.
“We asked him to be a bit more dominant and physical at the breakdown. He’s gone away and worked really hard. The guys in front will still need to give him the platform to work off,” says White.
There was more clarity around Auckland’s kicking game following the 16-14 defeat to Counties Manukau in Pukekohe last weekend, along with a need for less scrum penalties, White adds.
The defence, which has traditionally been slow to gel in recent years, was one of the positive areas from the opening round, but White knows it will again need to be solid after Northland engineered a rousing second half to defeat Bay of Plenty 28-23 in its opener last weekend in Whangarei.
“They have a go through the likes of Matt Wright, Rene Ranger and with Jack Goodhue coming back, which will strengthen them. A few of their boys have played in Auckland. It’s just a good battle and always is. It’s important for us to get a win and for them to continue their momentum,” says White, who knows the Taniwha culture well, having played 36 games for the Cambridge Blues from 1996-99.
In other changes to the bench, Leon Fukofuka comes into the No 21 jersey as the halfback replacement after his campaign with the Crusaders. Josh Kaifa comes in for the luckless loose forward Jamason Fa’anana-Shultz, a replacement last weekend on his Auckland debut, who broke his ankle in that game and will be out for the season. He had an operation on Monday.
Since 1922, the ledger, from 116 games, stands at 79 wins for Auckland and 32 for Northland, though the Taniwha’s last victory came in 2008 at Eden Park.
Auckland is entering its ‘storm week’, with a short turnaround before its next game, on Wednesday against Waikato at Eden Park.
*Auckland will wear black armbands and observe a moment’s silence before kickoff in tribute to Sir Colin Meads, who died last Sunday, and Sir John ‘DJ’ Graham, a life member of Auckland Rugby, who died earlier this month.
“They are both legends of our game and very important people in New Zealand rugby history. It’s important we honour these men,” says White.
*The First XV curtainraisers on Saturday will see Botany Downs face One Tree Hill in the 12.15pm 1B final, while at 2.30pm, St Kentigern will lock horns with Sacred Heart in the 1A decider.
Auckland match-day 23 for Northland
4.35pm, Eden Park, Saturday August 26:
- 15 Jordan Trainor (Ponsonby, 1 Auckland cap)
- 14 Vince Aso (Ponsonby, 29)
- 13 Malakai Fekitoa (Pakuranga, 24)
- 12 George Moala (Grammar TEC, 46)
- 11 Caleb Clarke (Suburbs, 1)
- 10 Daniel Bowden (Ponsonby, 8)
- 9 Jono Hickey (Grammar TEC, 23)
- 8 Blake Gibson (Ponsonby, 13)
- 7 Sinclair Dominikovich-Murray (University, 2)
- 6 Samuel Slade (Ponsonby, 1)
- 5 Scott Scrafton (Grammar TEC, 24)
- 4 Patrick Tuipulotu (Ponsonby, 15, c)
- 3 Marcel Renata (University, 12)
- 2 Greg Pleasants-Tate (Ponsonby, 17)
- 1 Sam Prattley (Pakuranga, 35)
- 16 Kurt Eklund (University, 23)
- 17 Isi Tu’ungafasi (Suburbs, 13)
- 18 Dexter Fa’amoana (College Rifles, 1)
- 19 Ben Nee-Nee (Pakuranga, 6)
- 20 Josh Kaifa (Manukau, 5)
- 21 Leon Fukofuka (Marist, 18)
- 22 TJ Faiane (Pakuranga, 8)
- 23 Otumaka Mausia (College Rifles, 0) +
Injured/unavailable: Tom McHugh (season), Jamason Fa’anana-Shultz (season), Dalton Papali’i, Taleni Seu, Michael Fatialofa, Tumua Manu, Melani Nanai