Canterbury look to cement top spot
September 2, 2009
Joe Rokocko and Taniela Moa celebrate a try in Auckland © Getty Images
The Air New Zealand Cup reaches round six this weekend with an ominous-looking Canterbury causing increasing concern for their title rivals.
The Cantabs clinical demolition of Wellington last week sent shockwaves through the competition with fears that they may yet improve further.
Canterbury take on fellow high-fliers Bay of Plenty at Baypark Stadium in Mount Maunganui in the pick of the latest matches. Bay of Plenty surrendered top spot in going down 29-14 to Auckland last time out while Canterbury suffocated Wellington on their way to a 36-14 win that also netted them the Ranfurly Shield.
Canterbury coach Rob Penney has had no choice but to make significant alterations to the side who last weekend lifted the Ranfurly Shield off Wellington. All Blacks Dan Carter, Richie McCaw and Brad Thorn are unavailable as they prepare for next week's Tri-Nations test against South Africa.
Stephen Brett, Ash Parker and Luke Romano take their respective places at fly-half, No 8 and lock, respectively. Bay of Plenty will hope for a dominant performance by Mike Delany at fly-half as they look to resuscitate their season, Junior Poluleuligaga his halfback partner. Tanerau Latimer starts in the back-row alongside Luke Braid and skipper Colin Bourke.
Second-placed Southland play host to lowly Northland at Rugby Park Stadium in Invercargill in what will be the opening game of the round.
Veteran Northland fly-half David Holwell is in line for a surprise 250th first class rugby appearance after emerging from retirement this week. Holwell, 34, was a shock inclusion on the reserve bench five months after telling coach Bryce Woodward he wouldn't be available for the Air NZ Cup.
Lachie Munro remains the starting No.10, who are 12th after five rounds, after losing their third game on Friday.
Manawatu travel to Trafalgar Park in Nelson to take on Tasman with the latter still reeling from the news that in-form prop Ben Franks has been ruled out for the rest of the season with injury, dealing a cruel blow to his side's semi-final hopes. The Crusaders front-rower has suffered a recurrence of the stress fracture in his foot which kept him out of most of this year's Super 14.
Meanwhile, another injury at Tasman sees centre Kade Poki sidelined with a hamstring problem, for probably the next 2-3 games. As a result winger Lucky Mulipola has been recruited on loan from Otago.
Elsewhere, Wellington make the trip to Growers Stadium in Pukekohe where they will face Counties Manukau. Rodney So'oialo and Cory Jane will line-up for the Lions as they bid to further their international claims.
Taranaki play host to North Harbour at Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth where All Blacks prop Tony Woodcock will make a rare appearance for the visitors.
The loose-head's inclusion sees Michael Reid shift to the tight-head side and Ben Afeaki to the reserve bench. Another notable selection is that of former All Blacks winger Rudi Wulf at fullback, a position where he shone for the Blues late in this year's Super 14.
Waikato entertain Hawke's Bay in Hamilton on Saturday, with Liam Messam skippering a Mooloo side buoyant after a 30-8 win over Counties Manukau. All Black scrum-half Brendon Leonard starts alongside Trent Renata, with Callum Bruce continuing in the centre after his match-winning contribution last weekend.
Otago take on Auckland at Carisbrook in the final game of the round.
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