While a clash against the All Blacks is a significant lure, Counties Manukau PIC Steelers coach Darryl Suasua is treating the unique Game of Three Halves encounter strictly as preparation for the Mitre 10 Cup competition.
Suasua plans to use all of his available squad in the two halves which will see the PIC Steelers play 40 minutes against Taranaki and 40 minutes against the All Blacks in the Game of Three Halves at Ecolight Stadium in Pukekohe on Friday night.
The PIC Steelers have only welcomed back their Super Rugby players fully into the squad this week, after a three-day camp last week, with some players like Tim Nanai-Williams still to return.
“It is an opportunity for us to test our systems against the best defence and best attack in world rugby,” said Suasua.
“We will be looking to see if our shape and systems hold up under this pressure, and the areas that get exposed will be the things we can then work on, so it is a fantastic experience for our players.
“We get to test ourselves against Taranaki who are a formidable team with an excellent record in this competition, and I will be blooding a number of young players and trying them in different positions.
“The outcome of both halves is not as important as giving us the opportunity to trial our game systems and our players ahead of the Mitre 10 Cup.”
With several Super players still carrying slight niggles or not yet returned to training, several young players will start in the first 40 minutes against Taranaki.
Blues front row star Pauliasi Manu anchors the front row with young players Gafatasi Su’a and Coree Te Whata-Colley who gets his start with Counties Manukau’s Nepo Laulala this week named in the All Blacks squad.
Fijian lock Viliame Rarasea brings experience to the tight five, while the Steelers welcome back the uncompromising Ronald Raaymakers after three years away from the game with injury.
There’s experience with the inside backs led by co-captain Augustine Pulu, who was selected in Super Rugby’s team of the year for his standout efforts for the Blues, with former Blues player Baden Kerr back at first-five after two seasons in UK with Bedford Blues and Saracens.
The rest of the backline are exciting young players including Tongan international Kali Hala at fullback, Brumbies back Nigel Ah Wong on the wing with Fijian flyer Tevita Nabura.
Also missing will be co-captain Jimmy Tupou who has a minor injury while former Maori All Black Joe Royal who needs to come through a fitness test.
The evening begins at 6pm with the PIC Steelers against Taranaki, with Taranaki taking on the All Blacks at 6.50 before the PIC Steelers return to play the All Blacks at 7.40.
The team to play the first 40 minutes vs Taranaki is: 1. Pauliasi Manu, 2. Gafatasi Su'a, 3. Coree Te Whata-Colley, 4. Matiaha Martin, 5. Viliame Rarasea, 6. Ronald Raaymakers, 7. Fotu Lokotui, 8. Viliami Taulani, 9. Augustine Pulu (c), 10. Baden Kerr, 11. Tevita Nabura, 12. George Maka, 13. Sam Furniss, 14. Nigel Ah Wong, 15. Kali Hala.
Reserves: Forwards: Sean Bagshaw, Romero Tagi/ Joe Royal, Kalolo Tuiloma, Sesimani Tupou, Daymon Leasuasu, Sam Henwood, Johnathan Kawau, Matt Vaai
Backs: Jonathan Taumateine, Luteru Laulala, Orbyn Leger, Glen Fisi’iahi, Albert Nikoro, Salimoni Tukinia, Liam Daniela.
BE PART OF THE STEELERS
Tickets to the Game of Three Halves are on sale at the union office at ECOLight Stadium and from iTicket.co.nz. Prices start at $10 for adults, $7 for students with kids 13 and under free on the South Auckland Motors’ embankment. Prices for the grandstand are: adults $20, students $15, and kids 13 and under $10. The Game of Three Halves is included in CMRFU Season Memberships.
Corporate hospitality is available for all home fixtures including the Game of Three Halves via the union. Season Memberships are on sale from only $50 for a South Auckland Motors Embankment membership or $100 for a Grandstand Membership for an adult and $50 for a child. Once again kids 13 years and under are FREE on the South Auckland Motors Embankment to all Steelers round robin home games courtesy of Pak n Save Pukekohe. Memberships are available from CMRFU office and www.steelers.co.nz or www.iticket.co.nz. Individual tickets to the match are available from CMRFU office, the gate on game day or www.iticket.co.nz. For any enquiries phone 09 2370033.