Head coach Wayne Pivac has named a near full-strength team for Auckland’s final pre-season hit-out against Northland at Mid Western Rugby Club, Maungakaramea today (kick-off 5pm).
The only notable absences from the side are loose forwards Steven Luatua, Peter Saili and Nathan Hughes, all of whom are injured but are expected to be at full fitness for the first game of the season against Hawke’s Bay next week.
“We had hoped to use today’s game as a dress rehearsal and put out the top XV and 22 players but with a few injuries, in particular to the loose forwards, it’s not quite full-strength and we’re using 25 players,” Pivac said.
Luatua has had a scan on his calf and it shows no damage, while Peter Saili has been left out because of a wrist injury and Nathan Hughes has sore ribs.
In their absence, promising Auckland Academy and University player Sean Brookman gets a rare opportunity to start at blindside flanker.
“It’s a great opportunity for Sean,” Pivac said.
“The thinking behind putting the odd young guy in there as well as Joe Tupe is that we’ve got to see them at this level so if we do get injuries later down the track we’ll know whether or not these guys are up to it.
“Sean’s definitely a promising player coming through. He’s big, strong and enthusiastic and it’s good to see that he’s nervous which is not a bad thing.”
In the backs, Grammar Carlton’s Gallaher Shield winning captain Dave Thomas gets the chance to push his case for selection in the hotly contested number 13 jersey.
“Because of a knee injury that he’s got we rested Dave last week and he got 20 minutes at the end so he gets to start and Malakai will come off the bench today,” Pivac said.
“13 is a position we’ll look at pretty closely so we’ll watch Dave’s performance today, we’ve got a backline in mind and the 13 position is the one that is most up for grabs.”
Pivac said the key priorities for today’s match were in transferring the work they had done on the training paddock into a real game.
“Firstly it’s about the way we play, making sure that what we give these guys to take out onto the field is working and everybody understands their roles, and then secondly we want to be successful as well and build a bit of momentum but certainly it’s about the performance.”
The Auckland team to face Northland at Mid Western Rugby club at 5.00pm is:
1. Pauliasi Manu
2. Tom McCartney
3. Ofa Tu’ungafasi
4. Liaki Moli
5. Andrew van der Heijden
6. Sean Brookman
7. Daniel Braid
8. Joe Tupe
9. Alby Mathewson
10. Gareth Anscombe
11. George Moala
12. Hadleigh Parkes
13. Dave Thomas
14. Ben Lam
15. Charles Piutau
16. Nathan Vella
17. Angus Ta’avao
18. Patrick Tuipulotu
19. Sean Polwart
20. Scott Patterson
21. Tony Fenner
22. Malakai Fekitoa
23. Siosiua Halonukanuka
24. Albert Nikoro
25. Lolagi Visinia