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Lions await All Blacks' return

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Friday, October 1, 2010    Sportal.co.nz    Getty Images

Bay of Plenty's 31-24 win in terrible wet and windy conditions at Westpac Stadium saw them leap-frog Andre Bell's side and put themselves firmly in play-off contention.

Wellington's inexperienced backline - missing the firepower of a Commonwealth Games-bound Hosea Gear - was exposed by the Steamers in Thursday night's encounter and Bell said the return of Piri Weepu, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu and Victor Vito to training would be a welcome morale boost for his young charges.

Weepu and Jane have expressed a desire to play against North Harbour in 10 days' time, while Vito was always expected to return for the round 11 clash at North Harbour Stadium.

Smith and Nonu have yet to make themselves available to play but regardless Bell said all of them would be welcomed with open arms.

"[Weepu and Jane] have been in contact with the All Blacks coaches and would like to play so I'm expecting them at training next week," Bell said.

"I'm pretty sure Ma'a will turn up for training and it will be good for the morale of our team for him to be involved in our training sessions.

"I haven't discussed [playing] with Conrad but he said he would like to come along to training.

"If he decides to play that's his decision and he's got to discuss that with the All Black coaches."

There is no doubt Wellington are short on experience at the moment with Rodney So'oialo (shoulder) and Neemia Tialata (ankle) also on the sidelines.

But Bell refused to use that as an excuse for the loss against a Bay of Plenty side who were well marshalled by their first five-eighths Mike Delany.

"We have got a young back line but they are only going to learn from that because they are probably going to have to back up next week," the coach admitted.

"We would score points then from the kick off we'd turn the ball over and they would score points. You can't afford to do that. We paid the price.

"We're disappointed but we've got to carry on. We can't afford to dwell on the past.

"The players probably know within themselves that they didn't have the killer instinct to put Bay of Plenty away and they got the four points."

The Steamers savoured a rare win in the capital. Their only other triumph at Westpac Stadium was in 2001 and coach Sean Horan said the victory was a huge step towards their goal of making the top four.

"This is the first time we've beaten them two years in a row … and I take my hat off to the boys, we showed immense character out there," he said.

"For a lot of guys who are new to our team, like Taniela Moa and Lelia Masaga it's the first time they've beaten them. Brett Mather hasn't won here before so there are a few feathers in the caps."

The win was built on the back of 16 points (four penalties and two conversions) from the boot of Delany, who also had a hand in tries for Ben Smith, Cory Aporo and Lelia Masaga.

Wellington clawed their way back into the game with five-pointers for hooker Dane Coles and halfback Alby Mathewson after Lima Sopoaga had kept them in the hunt with four penalties in the first half.

But Masaga put the game beyond reach in the dying minutes when he showed Mathewson a clean pair of heels to dive over out wide.

"He missed the first four games and we lost three of the four games. For us he is a key figure," said Horan of Delany.

"It was trying conditions kicking out there. It was probably easier to kick into the wind than it was with it and that showed."

"That's four wins in a row now. Coming down here the conditions weren't great but we're pretty stoked with the win that's for sure."

Horan also revealed he had been asked if he wanted Tajhon Mailata cited for his lifting tackle on Masaga in the 60th minute.

"They asked us if we wanted to cite him but I'm not into that. It's just the nature of rugby," the Steamers coach said. "We haven't had anybody kicked in the head and that would be the only time I'd cite."

Bell didn't want to comment on the incident but admitted: "I probably think we were a bit lucky [he wasn't given a yellow card] but that's for them [officials] to decide."