Wednesday, 13 September 2017
Ngatai returns to settled Port Taranaki Bulls side
Captain Charlie Ngatai returns to the midfield in the only change to a strong Port Taranaki Bulls starting XV to play Bay of Plenty in New Plymouth on Friday night.
Port Taranaki Bulls coach Colin Cooper and assistant Willie Rickards have opted for consistency as they eye a fourth win from five matches in the Mitre 10 Cup Premiership and look to keep a firm grip on a spot in the top four ahead of a busy final few weeks in the competition.
“The team is settled this week and it’s recognition of the performance against Auckland [a 49-38 win],” Cooper said. “There were a few disruptions during the week with the All Blacks being in town, which meant we had to shift trainings, so to go up there with a great attitude and perform well was really pleasing.
“Our defence was probably the best it has been this season. The game is constantly evolving and teams have a more attacking mindset than possibly in the past, with bonus points for four tries now becoming a big focus. We target an 85% tackle success rate and against Auckland it was 92%, so that was very pleasing.”
Having had a heavy workload during the first few weeks of the Mitre 10 Cup, Ngatai came off the bench in last Saturday’s high-scoring win at Eden Park and capped his entry with a superb offload for Taranaki’s sixth and final try.
He returns to second five-eighth at Yarrow Stadium this week, resulting in a minor reshuffle to the backline – Sean Wainui, who started at second five-eighth against Auckland, moves back out to his more-accustomed centre spot, and Seta Tamanivalu, who has played the past two games at centre, returns to the left wing in place of Manasa Mataele, who shifts to the bench.
Otherwise the backline remains the same. Halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi and first five-eighth Stephen Perofeta, who showed some magic touches against Auckland and landed a 56m penalty, combine for the fifth game in a row; Declan O’Donnell, who scored a fine try in the corner at Eden Park, holds on to the right wing spot; and Marty McKenzie again takes the No 15 jersey and will be boosted by a solid goal-kicking display.
For the first time this season, the Port Taranaki Bulls forward pack is unchanged. The front row of Mitchell Graham, Ricky Riccitelli and Angus Ta’avao spearhead a scrum that is getting stronger each game, and for the third straight match Pita-Gus Sowakula, Lachlan Boshier and Toa Halafihi combine in a back row that is physical and quick.
With the long-term back injury to Leighton Price, and Leon Power on the bench as he returns from a knee injury, locks Brad Tucker and Fin Hoeata continue their partnership in the second row.
“The forward pack went quite well against Auckland and is improving. The lineout still needs to be better, and I expect a big performance there against Bay of Plenty, while at scrum time we showed more commitment,” Cooper said.
Power’s return to the squad is timely, with new recruit Kane Thompson, who was rushed into the side and got 20 minutes off the bench against Auckland, unavailable this week after suffering a head knock.
In other changes on the bench, hooker Sione Lea returns from a week in the development team and will clock up his 50th game for Taranaki should he take the field. Lea replaces Donald Maka, while prop Asa Sorovaki also returns from the development team, with Jared Proffit resting after taking a knock to the head against Auckland. Prop Reuben O’Neill, loose forward Adrian Wyrill, and midfielder Johnny Fa’auli remain, while Kylem O’Donnell is again the halfback reserve, with Logan Crowley nearing a return from a shoulder injury.
Bay of Plenty are fourth in the second-tier Championship, having won two of their four games, and Cooper sees them as a similar team to Taranaki.
“They have a forward pack that works hard and have a dangerous backline with threats throughout, so we will have to bring the right attitude, as we did against Auckland,” he said.
Port Taranaki Bulls team to play Bay of Plenty, at 7.45pm, Friday 15 September, at Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth: