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ITM Cup Preview: Wellington v Taranaki

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Friday, October 15, 2010    Sportal.co.nz    Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: Westpac Stadium, Wellington, Saturday October 16, 19.35 NZT.

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 165 - Wellington 114, Taranaki 45, drawn 5, abandoned 1.

LAST TIME: September 10, 2009 (New Plymouth) - Taranaki 29-16 Wellington.

LAST TIME AT VENUE: October 11, 2008 - Wellington 50-30 Taranaki (quarter-final).

MATCH ODDS: NZ TAB (Tuesday): Wellington $1.45, Taranaki $2.60.

WALKING WOUNDED: Wellington gets a few big names back this week and keeps several All Blacks in the mix. Ma'a Nonu has abandoned his rest programme, albeit accompanied by some mixed comments in the press, and takes his spot at second-five. Hosea Gear is back from the sevens and goes straight onto the wing, while Piri Weepu managed to dodge some promotional work in Melbourne and play rugby instead. Taranaki suffered a major blow when Andre Taylor was rushed to hospital with a ruptured bowel and his season is over. That wasn't the only concern for Taranaki, as Tyson Keats (toe), David Smith (knee) and Mahonri Schwalger (hamstring and back) didn't train midweek, while Andrew Hore's possible return to match play is being assessed by the All Black medicos during the week. On the flip side, Kurt Baker and Ben Souness want to go straight from their flight from Delhi to Wellington and get stuck in again. But there was so much confusion in the Taranaki ranks about who was available and who wasn't that no fewer than 11 players (nine in the starting lineup) were named as part of brackets and the reserve bench even had a ‘player to be named later' on it.

FORM:

PAST FIVE Wellington:
Round 7: Lost to Auckland 15-21
Round 8: Beat Hawke's Bay 17-13
Round 9: Lost to Canterbury 30-37
Round 10: Lost to Bay of Plenty 24-31
Round 11: Beat North Harbour 52-23

PAST FIVE Taranaki:
Round 7: Beat Counties-Manukau 28-19
Round 8: Beat Canterbury 31-20
Round 9: Lost to Hawke's Bay 24-32
Round 10: Beat Southland 23-6
Round 11: Beat Manawatu 30-16

Wellington ran up a score against North Harbour last week, but it was hard to tell how much of that was due to Wellington being good or Harbour being lousy - if you watched the game, you would have to suggest a little more of the latter. Still, you don't put up 50 without finishing well and Wellington certainly did that. One would have to expect Taranaki to apply a lot more pressure in all areas than Harbour could manage, but the amber-and-blacks were not too flash themselves against Manawatu and, while they won, made hard work of it and only secured the bonus point late. In fact, the third Taranaki try - which put them out of immediate danger - could (and one has to say should) have been pulled back for a forward pass, so even the 30-16 margin was a bit flattering. There's no doubt taranaki is a better team than it showed last week, but there's also the suspicion that Wellington might actually turn it on soon.

WHO'S HOT: Scott Fuglistaller has been putting up some impressive stats this season but his effectiveness is limited by a tight five that doesn't always back those efforts up. Piri Weepu looked good in his first run for the Lions; he directed the game well and kicked accurately for goal. If Wellington can shift the ball wide - and the backs get first use of attacking possession - the Taranaki defence should be sorely tested. As ever, the big men will be asked to do an honest day's work for Taranaki and the locks, James Broadhurst and Craig Clarke, have not taken a backward step all season. George Pisi had one of his best games at this level for some time last week, and if Wellington doesn't watch him on Saturday he could well do a bit more damage.

WE THINK: This really is a hard game to call, especially as playoff spots are on the line for both sides and there is also the possibility of home field as well. Although Taranaki has never won a championship match at Wellington we think they might do it this year, by maybe five points after an interesting match.

TEAMS:

Wellington: 1. John Schwalger, 2. Dane Coles, 3. Neemia Tialata, 4. Jeremy Thrush (captain), 5. Api Naikatini, 6. Faifili Levave, 7. Scott Fuglistaller, 8. Victor Vito, 9. Alby Mathewson, 10. Piri Weepu, 11. Hosea Gear, 12. Ma'a Nonu, 13. Tajhon Mailata, 14. Julian Savea, 15. Apoua Stewart.

Reserves: 16. Ged Robinson, 17. Reg Goodes, 18. Brad Shields, 19. Dean Brunsdon, 20. Lima Sopoaga, 21. Charlie Ngatai, 22. Alipate Leiua or Buxton Popoali'i.

Taranaki: 1. Shane Cleaver, 2. Mahonri Schwalger or Andrew Hore or Timo Tutavaha, 3. Michael Bent, 4. James Broadhurst, 5. Craig Clarke (captain), 6. Jarrad Hoeata, 7. Johnny Willis, 8. Samuela Vunisa, 9. Tyson Keats or Brett Goodin or Kaylem O’Donnell, 10. Willie Ripia, 11. David Smith or Kurt Baker or Isaia Tuifua, 12. Jayden Hayward, 13. George Pisi, 14. Baker or Tuifua, 15. Scott Ireland.  
Reserves: 16. Hore or Schwalger or Tutavaha, 17. Carl Carmichael, 18. Ben Souness or Kane Barrett, 19. Chris Walker, 20. Goodin or O’Donnell, 21. Beauden Barrett, 22. TBA.

REFEREE: Bryce Lawrence