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Taranaki selectors opt for youthful NPC squad

Saturday, August 3rd 2013

Article by Glenn McLean, Source: Taranaki Daily News

If rugby is now a young man's game, then Taranaki could be pretty good at it in 2013.

The naming of Taranaki's National Provincial Championship squad yesterday was noticeable for one thing - its youth.

With an average age of a tick under 23, the Taranaki selectors have named one of the youngest squads in the union's 127-year history.

Aside from its immaturity, the 31-man squad is a bit misleading with James Marshall and Chris King named in the squad.

Marshall is booked for surgery next week, which will rule him out of the entire season, while King will be battling to return from a bicep injury before the end of the round robin stage.

All Blacks playmaker Beauden Barrett is also named and coach Colin Cooper is hopeful he will at least be available at some stage.

For various reasons, the squad has been reduced from the bloated 34-man outfit named last year.

Cooper can pull up who he likes from the development squad with the Taranaki union only required to pay training and match fees, not the minimal salary NPC squad members were required to be paid under the players' collective.

Of those who will actually play, only veteran halfback Chris Smylie has blown out 30 candles, while newcomer Beaudein Waaka and former national schools rep Mitchell Brown are still 19.

In between there are plenty of young men making their way in professional rugby, those who have been in Super Rugby squads, without seeing too much game time, and those who sat behind veterans in the Taranaki ranks for the past couple of seasons.

"There is still a hard core back from last year," Tenderlink Taranaki assistant coach Leo Crowley insisted.

"We've lost experience, game wise, but I don't think we've lost experience as a whole.

"You can't replace a guy like [Ireland-bound] Craig Clarke - there is no hiding that - but the likes of James Broadhurst and Blade Thomson have been around a few years now."

Barrett aside, first five-eighth remains a tough call. In the end, they have decided to take all three, as Rick McKenna and Daniel Brooks joined Waaka in signing on the dotted line.

For all the youth, there remains an exciting look to the class of 2013, providing the set piece and breakdown deliver the ball required to implement the game plan Cooper and his assistants, Crowley and Jono Phillips, want to introduce.

 

The back three, especially, should be able to cause opposition defences trouble.

Cooper is likely to settle on Kurt Baker at fullback, with Waisake Naholo, Frazier Climo, Jackson Ormond, Seta Tamanivalu and Andre Taylor options for the wing.

The midfield has newcomer Ope Peleseuma alongside Isaia Tuifua, with Ormond and even Taylor as options.

Pomare Samupo will provide back-up from the development squad.

Rookie captain Kane Barrett will be a constant in a changing pack as versatility takes over with most of the locks able to play blindside flanker and No 8 and vice versa.

The front row, like many other positions, will be light on experience.

The days of those who have played 100 games for the province lining up alongside each other are well and truly gone.

The most experienced frontrowers to pack down will be Carl Carmichael and Shane Cleaver, who have 43 caps apiece.

Players who have yet to represent Taranaki in the squad are Waaka, McKenna, Brooks, Peleseuma, prop Ryan Cocker and flanker Doug Tietjens.

TARANAKI NPC SQUAD

Backs: Kurt Baker, Beauden Barrett, Daniel Brooks, Frazier Climo, Jamison Gibson-Park, James Marshall, Rick McKenna, Waisake Naholo, Jackson Ormond, Ope Peleseuma, Chris Smylie, Seta Tamanivalu, Andre Taylor, Isaia Tuifua, Beaudein Waaka.

Forwards: Kane Barrett (captain), James Broadhurst, Mitchell Brown, Carl Carmichael, Shane Cleaver, Ryan Cocker, Mitchell Crosswell, Berny Hall, Jarrad Hoeata, Chris King, Sione Lea, Rhys Marshall, Nemia Soqeta, Blade Thomson, Doug Tietjens, Timo Tutavaha. Coach: Colin Cooper; assistant coaches, Leo Crowley and Jono Phillips