Ellison, Smith to play for Otago; but Taranaki's aura is talking point

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James Mortimer     18 Sep 2012     Getty Images

The bulk of the All Blacks 28-man group for The Investec Rugby Championship disbanded after their 21-11 win over the Springboks, with this weekend being a travel bye.

The All Blacks will travel to Argentina and South Africa for what looks to be the toughest 'third' of their campaign.

Smith will start at fullback and Ellison at centre for Otago, but all talk at the moment is focusing on Taranaki, and while Counties-Manukau are making plenty of noise in the ITM Cup Championship, the Ranfurly Shield holders made a big statement when closing down the defending champions at Yarrow Stadium with a 18-9 win.

Auckland coach Wayne Pivac even went as far to describe Colin Cooper's men, the only unbeaten team so far this season, as being similar to the great Shield side's of yesteryear, although Taranaki has some time to go before they equal the resounding reign of Auckland from 1985 to 1993 (61 defences).

Taranaki travel to Eden Park this week.

"It (Taranaki's form so far) reminds me of Auckland and Canterbury teams of old who have the ability to carry the Ranfurly Shield and perform in games when the shield's not at stake," he said.
"We're under no illusions it's going to be an easy game at all. We expect them to play like they performed last Saturday, which means they'll be very strong up front, they've got a tearaway there in the very classy (Thomas) Waldrom on the side of the scrum and a backline that complements that forward pack.

"They're a very committed side, a very experienced side and they'll probably see us as group of young guys they'll want to get stuck into. Hopefully we'll be prepared for that."

Auckland was beaten 37-16 by Bay of Plenty so will be under plenty of pressure.

However Taranaki, unless they decide to start taking the Shield on the road, will have to navigate just two more defences, against Manawatu and Waikato, to ensure that the Log o'Wood stays locked in the trophy cabinet for another season.

All Black prop Charlie Faumuina was not released for Auckland.

Pivac said that plenty of improvement will be needed ahead of Taranaki's arrival.

"We need to because Taranaki are a very, very good side," he said.