Air New Zealand Cup - Round 2 Preview
All Blacks return to domestic duty
August 5, 2009
North Harbour fly-half Luke McAlister, North Harbour v Taranaki, NPC, North Harbour Stadium, October 1, 2005
Luke McAlister is on the bench for North Harbour © Getty Images

The Air New Zealand Cup hits its second round this weekend, with some fierce rivalries being resumed and some big teams out for their first wins of the season following plenty of upsets in the opening games.

The round got underway on Thursday as Northland ran out 29-16 winners over Taranaki. Taranaki were without All Blacks Andrew Hore and Jason Eaton as Lachie Munro inspired Northland to victory.

On Friday, North Harbour welcome back Luke McAlister from All Black duty and Rudi Wulf from injury to reinforce their bench against Tasman at Albany.

North Harbour head coach Craig Dowd resisted the urge to start his returning All Blacks and has made only minor changes to the side that defended superbly against defending champions Canterbury before clinching a 22-19 victory last weekend. Goal-kicking pivot Michael Harris and centre Andrew Mailei have been retained, leaving McAlister to slot in later in the match in either position.

Dowd has promoted Nafi Tuitavake to the left wing in place of Ken Pisi, who drops out of the squad, while Michael Reid starts at loosehead prop in place of the benched James Afoa. Robbie Colhoun also starts on the openside flank with Malakai Ravulo reverting to the bench.

Tasman include Ben Franks in their front-row, the former All Black squad member packing down alongside Daniel Perrin and Zac Taulafo. Centre Andrew Goodman leads the side from No.12 and partners Kade Poki in midfield.

At Carisbrook, Otago will be looking to bounce back from their opening day defeat to Wellington as they take on Southland. All Black Adam Thomson continues his injury recovery for Otago and starts in the back-row alongside skipper Alando Soakai and Steve Setephano.

Jamie Mackintosh leads Southland, with impressive fly-half Robbie Robinson again starting alongside Scott Cowan. Pehi Te Whare, a try-scorer against Waikato last weekend, again gets a chance to impress out wide.

On Saturday, Waikato will be looking for the first win of their season against Aaron Cruden and Manawatu, while Hawke's Bay will want to follow up their huge win over Auckland by claiming the scalp of last season's losing finalists and Ranfurly Shield holders Wellington.

For Waikato All Blacks Brendon Leonard and Aled de Malmanche will get valuable game time with De Malmanche, who will start at hooker, having just played four minutes for the All Blacks this season. With the long-term injury sustained by Keven Mealamu, De Malmanche will be grateful to finally get a solid chunk of game time and impress the national selectors.

Leonard replaces David Bason at scrumhalf in the only change to the backline and will be looking to boost his confidence after starting two tests for the All Blacks this year, those against Italy and South Africa and failing to impress on both occasions.

Up front Sione Lauaki gets his first start of thes season at No. 8 as captain Liam Messam moves to the blindside and Jack Lam retains his spot at openside

For Manawatu their talisman remains the exciting Cruden and after he guided his side to a thirlling win over Counties Manukau last week, they'll be looking for more inspiration from the young fly-half.

Wellington are led by loose-head prop Jacob Ellison while his namesake, Tamati is in the fullback berth. Daniel Kirkpatrick and Alby Mathewson continue in the 10-9 axis and will be confident after the Lions shaded Otago 23-19 last week.

It won't be easy though as Hawke's Bay come off a scintillating 47-13 win over Auckland and currently sit top of the table.

Auckland take on the Dan Carter-inspired Canterbury in Saturday's final game.

Auckland are captained by Benson Stanley who makes his long-awaited return from injury after being named to start at inside centre. Stanley's been out since the opening round of the Super 14 after rupturing his hamstring - in the one other change the All Black prop John Afoa starts at tighthead.

Canterbury have made one to their team despite their loss in the opening round against North Harbour last week with No 8. Mike Coman replacing the injured Nasi Manu. It's also another start for Dan Carter who looks to work his way back into the All Blacks frame while for Coman it'll be his debut for the Cantabs.

The round is completed by Bay of Plenty's trip to face Counties Manukau on Sunday.

Colin Bourke captains the Steamers against Counties with Tanerau Latimer also in the loose-trio and Sevens star Zar Lawrence at full back to inject pace into their backline.

Counties went down 36-31 in a thriller to Manawatu last week despite being 31-19 ahead at one stage. They'll once again be relying on their lethal strike runners out wide none less so than Leila Masaga who scored last week against Manawatu.


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