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Glamour boy not Cantabs' prize possession

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Thursday, October 7, 2010    NZPA    Getty Images

While security guards have been reminded to watch out for the All Black-in-waiting during the post-match crowd invasion at Rugby Park, Canterbury will only have eyes for the Ranfurly Shield when they visit Southland for the ITM Cup's top of the table clash on Saturday night.

The Williams phenomenon captivated Carisbrook last weekend when the high profile league convert needed protection from his teammates as overzealous fans reached out to him.

But on Saturday night the visitors' priority will be making sure they take the Log o' Wood home, particularly after surrendering it to Southland last season.

The competition leaders' task has presumably been made easier by the All Blacks management removing their protective layer around rookie lock Sam Whitelock.

Given the Canterbury pack needs as much physical presence as it can muster when visiting the likes of Rugby Park, Whitelock's return, albeit in the unfamiliar role of blindside flanker, is pleasing for coach Rob Penney.

Whitelock was initially restricted to individual fitness work before the Bledisloe Cup/Grand Slam excursion to Hong Kong, Britain and Ireland after being rested from the Investec Tri Nations finale in Sydney on September 11.

But, the All Blacks selectors reviewed their handling of the 21 year-old, freeing him to play provincial rugby for the first time since Canterbury faced Bay of Plenty on September 3.

The Stags lost 23-6 in Taranaki last weekend, but Penney expected to face a different side on their home paddock.

"Shield matches are very special and the boys are looking forward to what will be a very hard battle in Invercargill."

Vulnerable Wellington are also poised to benefit from All Blacks reinforcement as they strive to improve from a disappointing eighth placing on the ladder.

Embattled coach Andre Bell has Piri Weepu available for at least Sunday's trip to North Harbour while utility loose forward Victor Vito is also scheduled to play next weekend's home match against Taranaki.

Midfielders Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith are training but not certain of playing before the All Blacks fly out for Hong Kong on October 23 while Cory Jane is nursing a foot injury.

Despite Wellington's precarious position, Bell said he would not pressure his All Blacks to play.

"It comes down to them at the end of the day.

They've got to ring the (All Black) coaches to express their interest in playing," he said.

Weepu said he was willing after a three-week break but warned his inclusion was not a cure all.

"You can only do as well as the rest of the players," he said.

"We are here this week and can hopefully help to point them in the right direction."

Bell accentuated the positive before taking on a struggling Harbour outfit noting that on 28 points, "we are only a win away from being in the top five."

Jerome Kaino's keenness to emerge from cotton wool has been welcomed by an anxious Auckland ahead of their local derby at neighbours Counties-Manukau on Saturday evening.

Not only do fifth-placed Auckland's top four semifinal hopes hang in the balance, with three rounds to play they are also no certainty of making the top seven for next year's Premier League.

Like Whitelock, Kaino was initially off limits but convinced Graham Henry otherwise after watching Auckland's disappointing 23-all stalemate with Hawke's Bay last weekend.

Meanwhile, Mils Muliaina has also successfully lobbied Henry for game time and will play in fourth-placed Waikato's match against cellar-dwelling Otago in Hamilton tomorrow night.

With only two points separating Taranaki in third and Bay of Plenty (sixth), they will be conscious of the need to claim maximum points from their games against also-rans to at least maintain their top seven aspirations.

Taranaki host Manawatu on Saturday, while the Steamers venture to Tasman to close out the round 11 on Sunday.