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Preview: Wellington v Canterbury

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011    Sportal.co.nz    Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: Westpac Stadium, Wellington, Wednesday July 27 @ 1805

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 166; Wellington 84 wins, Canterbury 72, drawn 10.

LAST TIME: October 29, 2010 (Christchurch, semi-final) – Canterbury 57-41 Wellington.

WALKING WOUNDED: Wellington has made only two changes, with Whetu Henry replacing Neemia Tialata in the front row and Brad Shields returning on the flank. Andre Bell has named six forwards among his eight reserves for this match. Rob Penney resisted any urge to make wholesale changes after the Shield defeat although he has lost three Crusaders – George Whitelock, Matt Todd and Sean Maitland – back to the recovery room to continue their rehab after the Super 15. Three newcomers mark the Canterbury side, with lock Joel Everson, first-five Tyler Bleyendaal and winger Matt Thatcher all making their championship debut.

FORM:
Wellington:
Round 1: beat Taranaki 23-5 (a)
Round 2: lost to Auckland 17-21 (h)

Canterbury:
Round 1: beat Auckland 40-33 (a)
Round 2: lost to Southland 19-22 (h, RS)

These sides have very similar form coming into this match: a good win over a side that has title ambitions was followed by a smashing at home at the hands of a more committed pack even if, in both cases, those teams were playing their third game in just over a week. Although both scorelines were close neither of these sides can feel hard done by with its defeat; instead, there should be a vote of thanks to those who had to make a stack of tackles and generally did it well. Canterbury certainly didn't give the Shield up without a fight – the defence was outstanding – but Southland's overwhelming advantage in territory and possession eventually told with that late James Wilson dropped goal. A few hours later Wellington was put to the same test by Auckland and nearly stole a game it had no right to win after being outplayed throughout although the last drive, in terrible conditions, eventually petered out a few metres from the line. As a result this match takes on added importance for two regular playoff contenders, neither of who will feel comfortable with a 1-2 record.

WHO'S HOT: Most players involved in this match will feel they have a point to prove, and that number will certainly include Canterbury skipper Ash Parker, who never spared himself in the hard exchanges on Saturday. It was easy to see he didn't relish losing and he will, no doubt, be back in the thick of it again on Wednesday. Robbie Fruean didn't see much attacking ball and had problems containing Kendrick Lynn, so he will be after a big showing against his old team while Telusa Veainu, one of the promising players unearthed last year, will be looking for ball and space simultaneously. Wellington skipper Jeremy Thrush was left lamenting poor execution and some rather naive tactics on Saturday night so one can bet he's had a few things to say at training. Scott Fuglistaller will be hoping to do something other than tackle this week; he defended well but had little chance to be the constructive link he can be and that makes a difference to Wellington's continuity play. Lima Sopoaga seldom saw good ball and was forced, for much of the game, to clear under pressure – which he did effectively. If he's allowed to attack the line Canterbury had better be paying attention, because he's a dangerous runner and a real threat.

WE THINK: This match promises to be tight and tough, but if one thing stood out last Saturday it was the looks on the Canterbury faces after that loss. Nobody in the squad, from veterans to new men, was happy and someone will cop it sooner rather than later. Wellington probably won't cop it, but they might find the job a little tough on the night – Canterbury by five.

TEAMS:

Wellington: 1. Jacob Ellison, 2. Dane Coles, 3. Whetu Henry, 4. Jeremy Thrush (capt), 5. Mark Reddish, 6. Brad Shields, 7. Scott Fuglistaller, 8. Victor Vito, 9. TJ Perenara, 10. Lima Sopoaga, 11. Julian Savea, 12. Michael Hobbs, 13. Alipate Leiua, 14. Jason Woodward, 15. Apoua Stewart.

Reserves: 16. Motu Matu'u, 17. Arden David-Perrot, 18. Api Naikatini, 19. Faifili Levave, 20. Dean Brunsdon, 21. Frae Wilson, 22. Michael Lealava'a, 23. Reg Goodes.

Canterbury: 1. Paea Fa'anunu, 2. Paul Ngauamo, 3. Andrew Olorenshaw, 4. Luke Romano, 5. Joel Everson, 6. Ash Parker (capt), 7. Brendon O'Connor, 8. Nasi Manu, 9. Mark Swanepoel, 10. Tyler Bleyendaal, 11. Matt Thatcher, 12. Tom Taylor, 13. Robbie Fruean, 14. Telusa Veainu, 15. Johnny McNicholl.

Reserves: 16. Ben Funnell, 17. Nepo Laulala, 18. Reuben Thorne, 19. Luke Whitelock, 20. Willi Heinz, 21. Takerei Norton, 22. Robbie Flynn, 23. Sam Cottam.

REFEREE: Bryce Lawrence