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Preview: Taranaki v Hawke's Bay

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Mitre10Cup.co.nz     26 Aug 2016     Getty Images

Saturday 27 August, Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth at 4.35pm
Played: 51
Wins: Taranaki 28, Hawke's Bay 17, Drawn 6
Last Time: Hawke's Bay 29 Taranaki 26 (2014)

TEAMS
Taranaki: 1. Mitchell Graham, 2. Rhys Marshall, 3. Michael Kainga, 4. Ben Matwijow, 5. Leon Power, 6. Mitchell Croswell (captain), 7. Berny Hall, 8. Iopu Iopu-Aso, 9. Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 10. Stephen Perofeta, 11. Manasa Moala-Mataele, 12. Isaia Tuifua, 13. Sean Wainui, 14. Beaudein Waaka, 15. Marty McKenzie.

Reserves: 16. Sione Lea, 17. Jared Proffitt, 18. Reuben O'Neill, 19. Mitchell Brown, 20. Toa Halafihi, 21. Kylem O'Donnell, 22. Declan O'Donnell, 23. Trinity Spooner-Nera.

Hawke's Bay: 1. Rikki Riccitelli, 2. Ash Dixon (captain), 3. Ben May, 4. Geoff Cridge, 5. Mark Abbott, 6. Hugh Renton, 7. Tony Lamborn, 8. Fa'alemiga Selesele, 9. Brad Weber, 10. Ihaia West, 11. Mason Emerson, 12. Billy Ropiha, 13. Jonah Lowe, 14. Ryan Tongia, 15. Lewis Marshall.

Reserves: 16. Jorian Tangaere, 17. Jason Long, 18. Tolu Fahamokioa, 19. Josh Eden-Whaitiri, 20. Ben Hamelink, 21. Ellery Wilson, 22. Tiaan Falcon, 23. Matt Garland.

FORM: Taranaki were made to sweat in the opening game of the Mitre 10 Cup, edging a resurgent Bay of Plenty 30-22 after holding a 21-0 lead. Bay of Plenty came storming home in the last quarter of the match, only for Marty McKenzie to seal the game with a penalty. A win, but not a particularly convincing one for Mitchell Croswell and the Bulls. Hawke's Bay were on the other end of the results ledger, going down to Wellington 26-36 after holding a 12-7 lead at the break. Despite a 10-point defeat, the Premiership's newest team managed to stave a point from the loss in what could prove to be crucial by the end of the competition.

SQUAD UPDATE: Bustling centre Seta Tamanivalu has become the All Blacks' gain and Taranaki's loss. He has been replaced by Sean Wainui at centre in one of five changes made by coach Colin Cooper. Mitchell Brown has been demoted to the bench in favour of Iopu Iopu-Aso, while Beaudein Waaka also gets a start on the right win. He'll be partnered with the impressive Manasa Mataele on the left wing. There will be a few familiar faces for Magpies fans, including former junior Hawke's Bay rep Rhys Marshall starting at hooker. To his right will be tighthead prop Michael Kainga, the former Bay of Plenty No.3 who played his first match for Taranaki against Waikato last week in a commanding front row performance.

Meanwhile, Hawke's Bay have made just the two changes for Saturday's clash. Halfback Brad Weber gets his opportunity to shine in the No.9 jersey after spending just under half an hour as a replacement for the demoted Ellery Wilson. A late signing also gets his opportunity, with Ben May slotting into tighthead prop in place of Tolu Fahamokioa. A first class debut could be on the cards for loose forward Ben Hamelink, who has replaced Marino Mikaele-Tu'u on the bench. Head coach Craig Philpott will be hoping all 23 Magpies come through hassle-free, given the injury ward is already bursting at the scene with 10 players including the likes of fan favourites Robbie Fruean and Shannan Chase.

KEY PLAYERS: There's a salivating battle between the halfback-first five-eighths combinations that shapes as a key contest within this one. Two of the more dominant provincial players over the last few years, Hawke's Bay's Brad Weber and Ihaia West, will come up against two highly touted prospects for the future in Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi and Stephen Perofeta for Taranaki. The 19-year-old Perofeta spent last year playing for Wanganui in the Meads Cup, and both he (2016) and Tahuriorangi (2015) have represented New Zealand at the Under-20 world championships. It seems almost too predictable after discussing the key cogs of the backline, but there are two exciting front rows that overall look pretty evenly matched on paper.

THE VERDICT: Taranaki have a proud history against Hawke's Bay in a battle that dates back to 1885. The Bulls haven't lost at home to the Magpies since 1972, an incredible record that will be sorely tested on Saturday afternoon. A few showers and squally winds are expected at Yarrow Stadium come kick off time, which could neutralise Hawke's Bay's dynamic backline. Even more pressure is set to fall on the shoulders of the Taranaki forwards, but there's a reason the side hasn't lost at home for almost 45 years so it could very well be the hosts by five points in a damp but entertaining contest.