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Preview: Taranaki v Wellington

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Friday, July 15, 2011    Sportal.co.nz    Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth, Saturday July 16 @ 1935

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 166; Taranaki 45 wins, Wellington 115, drawn 5, abandoned 1.

LAST TIME: October 16, 2010 (Wellington) – Wellington 49-15 Taranaki.

WALKING WOUNDED: Taranaki could not consider James Broadhurst (shoulder) and concussion ruled both Scott Ireland and Shane Cleaver out of contention but a strong side has still been named. Kurt Baker gets to play for the first time in nine months after a slow rehab from stress fractures. Wellington has named a side with plenty of experience up front and some speed in the backs; All Blacks Piri Weepu and Cory Jane are both available and will start. Andre Bell has few worries with injury at this stage.

FORM: Taranaki had an up-and-down pre-season, winning and losing out-and-home matches with Bay of Plenty before suffering a solid thumping from Waikato in its final hit-out. Those results, while counting for nothing in the grand scheme of things, will have given Colin Cooper plenty to chew on. Wellington had one moderate performance, when it scraped home against Manawatu with a last-minute try, and one good one, when Canterbury was thumped at Petone last week. The Lions put 40 on the board in conditions that were not ideal, completing what was arguably the best pre-season display by any of the ITM Cup teams.

WHO'S HOT: Taranaki has plenty of experienced players available but will be very keen to see some who had varied Super rugby seasons play plenty of minutes in the amber and black. Beauden Barrett may not have played much but will be the starting first-five after playing a string of cameos a year ago. Everything he's shown so far says he will do a good job, so his progress will be monitored by many, not least the other teams. Craig Clarke was solid, as ever, and Jayden Hayward looked good at the higher level when replacing the injured All Blacks. Both will be significant figures for Taranaki this year. Wellington will be looking to Victor Vito to recapture the sort of form he showed in the early going during the Investec Super rugby campaign before grinding away in an under-performing pack took its toll. The young inside backs, Lima Sopoaga and Michael Hobbs, also have a lot to prove and are capable of doing it; Sopoaga had some good moments for the Highlanders and now only needs to add the consistency that generally comes with experience. Hobbs has been out of action for the best part of a year but showed a great deal of promise before some serious injuries slowed him and the Lions may centre planty of play around him in 2011.

WE THINK: Although Wellington has Piri Weepu and Cory Jane available this week, Taranaki still appeals as a side more than capable of winning. On a weekend where the weather will play a big part the home pack has the players to control territory and create chances, which should be enough for the 'Naki to get home in a close contest.

TEAMS:

Taranaki: 1. Carl Carmichael, 2. Andrew Hore, 3. Michael Bent, 4. Jason Eaton, 5. Craig Clarke (capt), 6. Chris Walker, 7. Scott Waldrom, 8. Samuela Vunisa, 9. Tyson Keats, 10. Beauden Barrett, 11. Andre Taylor, 12. Jayden Hayward, 13. Isaia Tuifua, 14. Waisake Naholo, 15. Kurt Baker.

Reserves: 16. Laurence Corlett, 17. Sione Lea, 18. Blade Thomson, 19. Ben Souness, 20. Brett Goodin, 21. Jack Cameron, 22. Frazer Climo, 23. Kevin Curtis.


Wellington: 1. Neemia Tialata, 2. Dane Coles, 3. Whetu Henry, 4. Jeremy Thrush (capt), 5. Mark Reddish, 6. Brad Shields, 7. Scott Fuglistaller, 8. Victor Vito, 9. Piri Weepu, 10. Lima Sopoaga, 11. Julian Savea, 12. Michael Hobbs, 13. Alipate Leiua, 14. Jason Woodward, 15. Cory Jane.

Reserves: 16. Motu Matu'u, 17. Reg Goodes, 18. Api Naikatini, 19. Faifili Levave, 20. TJ Perenara, 21. Steve Honey, 22. Apoua Stewart, 23. Arden David-Perrot.


REFEREE: Jonathon White