The early season depth of champions New Plymouth Old Boys will be tested on Saturday when they face cross-town rivals Tukapa.
In just the second week of the Taranaki premier rugby competition, Old Boys will be without Codey Rei, Fin Hoeata and Lachlan Boshier who were due to start for the Chiefs development team on Friday night.
Old Boys will also have to do without captain Liam McBride, who is playing in the Hong Kong 10’s tournament, for the CMK feature match at Vogeltown Park.
While he would prefer to have those key players available, Old Boys co-coach Michael Carr said it was exciting for the club to see them promoted and given an opportunity at a higher level.
“We know it’s going to be an extremely tough clash but that’s the beauty of having a wider squad and it’s a good opportunity for some guys to have a crack at playing because we’re really pleased with how some guys are travelling.”
It was not all bad news for Old Boys, though. Off-setting the loss of those players was the release of Hurricanes halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi who will start from the bench.
Old Boys opened their season with a comfortable 34-8 win over Spotswood United, delivering a performance Carr and co-coaches Phil Mitchell, Scott Ireland and Brendon McGlashan were more than happy with, especially the work of first-year rookies Mitchell O’Neill and Shaan Waite.
Conversely, Tukapa were their own worst enemies as they lost 39-10 to Clifton in an error-filled performance.
Not that Carr was taking too much comfort in their corresponding performances.
He believed Tukapa would provide a stern physical test across the field. Given that, he wanted to see the players continue to make progress with how they want to play.
That included the trial breakdown rules which he thought they managed well against Spotswood United.
“It is a big mind shift for people. When you have been doing something for so many years, and you have to retrain that, it is going to take some time.”
While Tukapa struggled at times with the new laws against Clifton, co-coach Matt Stone felt it was not the top priority to get right in their game before they faced Old Boys.
Instead, he wanted to see the players work hard on minimising their errors, among other things.
“We probably let ourselves down and it was just the sheer volume of mistakes that were really costly,” he said. “We were also poor with our decision making.”
Stone felt they needed to be more direct in their approach this week, especially in the backline, while their overall attack needed improving.
“A lot of it comes back to communication and that could be attributed a bit to the new boys in the team and the start of the season. We just need to get a better understanding of our systems but that will come.”
Stone insisted they had given little time to looking what Old Boys did last week, with their focus solely on improving their game.
Elsewhere, two of the first week’s winners will meet when Stratford host Southern at Victoria Park.
Stratford, who are chasing back-to-back wins for the first time since 2012, were dangerous off loose play last week in their 33-27 win over Coastal and Southern will be mindful of limiting their opportunities to counter in open play, especially with the pace of some of the opposition.
Southern coach Jason Skipper was not entirely happy with last week’s performance in their win over Inglewood but he has the players in his squad that will cause Stratford plenty of defensive problems.
Inglewood and Spotswood United will be seeking sharp improvement in some areas of their play when they meet the TET Stadium in another match that looks hard to call.
Clifton have a grand chance of staying at the top of the table when they travel to Rahotu to play Coastal, although the home side could be sharp improvers.
Given the momentum they took out of last week’s win over Tukapa, Clifton should be favourites but the winner could be the side that adapts to the referee’s interpretation and ruling of the new breakdown laws.
How they line up
New Plymouth Old Boys
Referee: Will Johnston
NPOB: Logan Rei, Caleb Ritai, Sione Mafi, Jayden Ford, Michael Rubick, Daniel Waite, David Ormrod, Jono Crossan, Hamish Alabaster, Thomas McElroy, Matt Wallace, Trent Sutton, Willy McBride, Caleb Mawson (captain), Mitchell O’Neill. Reserves, Blake Morgan, Sean McKerrow, Dean Stewart, Hayden Patene, Josh Rei, Shaan Waite, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi.
TUKAPA: Jayson Potroz, Jade Grayling, Isaia Tuifua, Pomare Samupo, Daniel Bernet, Eli Kneepkens, Ryan Bishop, Mitchell Crosswell (captain), Adrian Wyrill, Shay Moon, Steven Needham, Alec Dravitski, Baxter King, Liam Bernet, Brendan Dent. Reserves, Kris Moller, Laurence Corlett, Corbin Porteous, Scott Crocker, Jamie Sandford, Lagen Kumeroa, Oti Wilson.