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Taranaki Have To Give It Heaps.

6th June 2005 By Munster Rugby

Taranaki Have To Give It Heaps.

“The game has moved on a lot since 1993. It’s gone professional but the main thing is the speed it’s played at. We’ve just got to make sure we get ourselves into the game early and give it heaps,”

One glance at Gordon Slater’s ears and you know he’s been through thousands of scrums. Several of those were up against Jason Leonard – the Englishman who went on to win more than 100 test caps – when the Lions thumped Taranaki 49-25 in 1993. And the ageless tighthead will square off against another Englishman, Graham Rowntree, when the teams meet in New Plymouth tomorrow night.

Think heartland rugby and you think Slater and his brother Andrew, the dairy farmers who formed the core of a fine Taranaki team through the latter 1990s and early 2000s.

Since making his debut at 19 in 1991, Gordon Slater has run up more than 160 appearances, plus 55 Super 12 games for the Hurricanes and six games for the All Blacks, including three test appearances off the bench against France and Italy in 2000.

He remains self-effacing, the type of bloke you could rely on: utterly dependable in a tight spot, an uncompromising prop who forms a durable, classy front row with All Black Andrew Hore and Hurricane and New Zealand Maori Tony Penn.

Where tomorrow night’s game will sit in Slater’s memory depends how it goes, he said. “The game has moved on a lot since 1993. It’s gone professional but the main thing is the speed it’s played at. We’ve just got to make sure we get ourselves into the game early and give it heaps,” he added after a lengthy training run in the sunshine at the Yarrow Stadium.

Taranaki’s backs are steady and the pack is a decent outfit, with lively Chris Masoe and John Willis on the flanks, captain Paul Tito fresh from New Zealand Maori’s trip to Fiji at lock, and powerful Fijian Tomasi Soqeta, another Wesley College product, at No 8.

Feelings are running high in the ‘Naki at the omission of Hore by the All Black selectors. “I don’t know what he has to do,” Taranaki coach and former All Black fullback Kieran Crowley said. “On one hand it’s great that we have him for the Lions match, but he deserves better than that.”

Hore is not the type to shoot from the lip, but if the All Black selectors are hoping omission will inspire a strong display out of the rugged No 2 tomorrow, they’re probably right.

Tito, sporting a spot of knitting across his left eyebrow, acknowledged Taranaki put plenty of store on getting it right at scrum and lineout time. The fact this pack all played NPC last season – although they have lost regular No 8 Brent Thompson and lock Reece Robinson to Japan – is a significant help. “That’s a huge bonus. We know what we can do, our strengths and weaknesses and now we’ve just got to put it on the track.”

Taranaki have had just one warm-up game, a 24-all draw with New Zealand Colts, but there is no talk that this game is a further step in the preparation for the NPC. This is a one-off, and being treated as such.

Tito said the Bay of Plenty team had set a high standard for the other provinces to emulate. “The Bay team can take a huge pat on the back. The way they went about their work was awesome.”

Which is what he hopes others will say about Taranaki as the tour progresses. The Lions arrive in New Plymouth today.

David Leggat – New Zealand Herald.

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