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Acid test for Canterbury tight five

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Sportal.co.nz     23 Aug 2012     Getty Images

Canterbury's front row of Joe Moody, Ben Funnell and Nepo Laulala and locks Luke Katene and Dom Bird boast just 28 Canterbury appearances collectively while former All Blacks and Tasman tighthead prop Campbell Johnstone played 69 matches for Canterbury alone before leaving in 2008 to scrum for the Biarritz Olympique club in France.

Johnstone, Crusaders hooker Quentin MacDonald, and former All Blacks and Wellington lock Ross Filipo are part of Tasman's tight five which will make life difficult for Canterbury's engine room in the clash between two of the Crusaders catchment areas.

Matson said that the tight-five preparation had been a key point of training. "They are inexperienced and have had only a handful of games but we have faith that they will lift and meet the challenge."

Matson, who along with assistant coach Scott Robertson, is striving to bring Canterbury a record fifth successive national provincial championship title, said that Canterbury would be looking to play to its strengths and using its potent backline in which only wing Johnny McNicholl has not played Super rugby.

In all, nine Crusaders and one Highlander [Nasi Manu] are in the starting XV and a further four are in the reserves, including halfback Andy Ellis, who will chalk up his 50th Canterbury appearance if he takes the field.

With regular captain, flanker George Whitelock, also on the bench, halfback Willi Heinz will lead Canterbury. "He epitomises red-and black-values," Matson said. "He's a great professional and an awesome teammate and player."

Matson said he would integrate the Crusaders back into the team with some needing more recovery time than others after a long Super campaign which ended in the semi-finals. "We are mindful that it is week one for us [Canterbury] but week 37 for some players and we have three games in eight days."

Tasman has been a pesky opponent for Canterbury in the last three years, winning in Nelson two years and being only four points in deficit in 2009 and 2011. And Matson is aware that Tasman gave his Cantabrians line-up a good towelling [29-5] in their pre-season match in Kaikoura three weeks ago.

"We certainly don't under-estimate Tasman. To be honest they gave us a lesson a couple of weeks back and they are well-organised, well-coached and with a good roster. It will be a great gauge for us at the start of our ITM Cup campaign.

Team: 1.Joe Moody, 2.Ben Funnell, 3.Nepo Laulala, 4.Luke Katene, 5.Dom Bird, 6.Luke Whitelock, 7.Matt Todd, 8.Nasi Manu, 9.Willi Heinz (c), 10.Tyler Bleyendaal, 11.Johnny McNicholl, 12.Tom Taylor, 13.Robbie Fruean, 14.Adam Whitelock, 15.Sean Maitland.

Reserves: 16.Codie Taylor, 17.Paea Fa'anunu, 18.Joel Everson, 19.George Whitelock, 20.Andy Ellis, 21.Ryan Crotty, 22.Telusa Veainu.