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Preview: Wellington v Northland

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011    Sportal.co.nz    Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: Westpac Stadium, Wellington, Wednesday August 10 @ 2005

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 31; Wellington 21, Northland 8, drawn 2.

LAST TIME: August 28, 2010 (Wellington) – Wellington 31-28 Northland.

WALKING WOUNDED: Wellington has the luxury of getting Hosea Gear and Cory Jane back from the All Blacks and these two have been slotted straight back into the starting lineup. After two ordinary efforts in a row, there have also been changes in the Wellington pack in both the front row and the loose forwards. Charlie Ngatai makes his first appearance of the season on the Wellington bench after recovering from his broken leg. Northland welcomes Jared Payne back for this match and he will play at centre as well as resuming the captaincy. Apart from a bit of shuffling at lock and in the loose forwards, Northland has stuck closely to the side that beat Bay of Plenty.

FORM:
Wellington:
Round 1: beat Taranaki 23-5 (a)
Round 2: lost to Auckland 17-21 (h)
Round 3: beat Canterbury 37-28 (h)
Round 4: lost to Bay of Plenty 0-32 (a)
Round 5: lost to Hawke's Bay 20-40 (a)

Northland:
Round 1: beat Tasman 19-9 (h)
Round 2: lost to Manawatu 22-30 (a)
Round 3: lost to Taranaki 16-23 (h)
Round 4: beat Otago 20-17 (h)
Round 5: beat Bay of Plenty 30-23 (h)

Wellington comes into this game in some disarray, having lost its last two by record championship margins to its respective opponents and giving up ten tries in the process. As a result the Lions have dropped into the relegation slot and really need to turn things around smartly if they wish to avoid the sort of pressure that comes from being at the bottom of the ladder. Northland's win over Bay of Plenty was built on a strong first half and gritty protection of the lead thus gained; although the steamers made a strong run at them Northland ticked the board over with a couple of penalties and deserved its four points. The victory kept them in a challenging position in the Championship division although there are still three teams – all of whom have played one extra match – still ahead of them and the Cambridge Blues still have work to do if they want that final place.

WHO'S HOT: Wellington would love to find a hot hand right about now, as the last two performances have been insipid. Among the many young players in the side, prop Reg Goodes is one earmarked for good things. A big, strong fellow with good technique and a busy all-round game, he has the chance to move a little higher up the pecking order this week. Dean Brunsdon is another who has looked good in his generally brief appearances and he has the task of combatting the aggressive Northland loosies at the breakdown. Frae Wilson did enough last week, in his first start at this level, to retain his spot against a proven opponent. Cameron Eyre moves to openside this week in place of Joel McKenty and brings the same combative, high-energy game as the man he replaces. He has now established himself as Northland's best loose forward after two good years. Northland still hasn't settled on a first-five and Jack McPhee is running the cutter on Wednesday; the former North Harbour man is talented in this position and has good all-round skills. Aaron Bancroft, his inside back partner, has been travelling nicely this year and making telling contributions on both attack and defence.

WE THINK: If Northland is going to end its drought against Wellington, this year is an excellent opportunity. Northland's performance graph is heading upwards while Wellington's is going the other way and the visitors have the ability and energy to cash in. In what might be considered an upset, Northland by five appeals as a prediction.

TEAMS:

Wellington: 1. Reg Goodes, 2. Motu Matu'u, 3. Neemia Tialata, 4. Jeremy Thrush (capt), 5. Mark Reddish, 6. Brad Shields, 7. Dean Brunsdon, 8. Faifili Levave, 9. Frae Wilson, 10. Lima Sopoaga, 11. Hosea Gear, 12. Michael Hobbs, 13. Shaun Treeby, 14. Alipate Leiua, 15. Cory Jane.

Reserves: 16. Dane Coles, 17. Jacob Ellison, 18. Scott Fuglistaller, 19. Victor Vito, 20. TJ Perenara, 21. Michael Lealava'a, 22. Charlie Ngatai, 23. Arden David-Perrot.


Northland: 1. Justin Davies, 2. Ross Wright, 3. Scott Vessey, 4. Bryce Williams, 5. Mark Burman, 6. Dan Faleafa, 7. Cameron Eyre, 8. Cameron Goodhue, 9. Rhyan Caine, 10. Jack McPhee, 11. Bryce Heem, 12. Aaron Bancroft, 13. Jared Payne (capt), 14. Simon Munro, 15. Lachie Munro.

Reserves: 16. Tevita Vaipulu, 17. Aterea Davis, 18. Marty Veale, 19. Danny Mason, 20. Wayne Ngaluafe, 21. Ash Moeke, 22. Derek Carpenter, 23. Jamie Corsi.


REFEREE: Grant Stuart