Preview: Wellington v Manawatu

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Friday, August 12, 2011    Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: Westpac Stadium, Wellington, Saturday August 13 @ 1935

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 79; Wellington 57, Manawatu 16, drawn 6.

LAST TIME: September 4, 2010 (Palmerston North) – Manawatu 36-24 Wellington.

WALKING WOUNDED: Wellington has lost Hosea Gear and Cory Jane back to the All Black squad, for whom Victor Vito was something of a surprise call-up in preparation for the South Africa test. The forward pack remains much the same as played against Northland but the backline has been substantially rearranged. The Manawatu team is very much the norm, with loose forward rotation and minimal backline changes. Craig Clare returns from injury, although Frank Bryant is under a cloud and bracketed in the reserves this week.

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)
Round 6: beat Northland 43-19 (h)

Round 2: lost to Counties-Manukau 25-32 (a)
Round 3: beat Northland 30-22 (h)
Round 4: lost to Canterbury 15-42 (a)
Round 5: beat North Harbour 32-21 (h)
Round 6: beat Taranaki 15-10 (h)

Wellington recovered from two horrible performances (and that's being kind) to thump Northland midweek in a match they had to have. Buoyed by the presence of a couple of All Blacks, of whom Cory Jane was particularly impressive, the Lions finally resembled the team that overran Canterbury a few games back. Now shorn of the All Blacks again, it remains for those Wellington players remaining to deliver the same quality on Saturday night. Manawatu has been going about its business steadily and collecting at least one point in almost every outing; normally it has been four or five. The win over Taranaki was a good one, even if the final pass in the move that provided the winning try was forward and not called. Read about it when you get your fish and chips. That win, however, was deserved because Manawatu made few errors and looked after the ball well, while capitalising on the chances that came its way. And that is something the team has done well all season.

WHO'S HOT: Faifili Levave was able to play the roaming game he enjoys against Northland and was an important figure in a couple of tries, but will be asked to work around the fringes against the combative Manawatu loose trio on Saturday. Stopping the Turbos at the breakdown is especially important, as they often capitalise from turnovers. TJ Perenara has been restored at halfback and is a talented young player even if he has copped a bit in recent weeks; he clears well and uses good options if his forwards give him good ball. In the midfield Charlie Ngatai returns to the starting team after recovering from a badly broken leg and will be looking to work back into the sort of form he was showing before the accident; he is a talented, strong player with potential to kick on. The Manawatu front five contains few stars but a lot of guys who work their tails off, and props Grant Polson and Ma'afu Fia are two born to toil. Polson is always moving bodies and putting his own on the line, while Fia is more likely to be cast in the role of close-in ball carrier. Both always do their tight work to the best of their not inconsiderable ability and, in combination, they will give the Wellington front row plenty to deal with. Johnny Leota is a man of the same stamp, although he plays in the back division. A punishing tackler and a bloke who seldom puts his supports under pressure with ill-conceived passes, he is the steady man so important to a backline full of speedy individuals who possibly have more flair but who need his rock-solid presence in the middle of the park.

WE THINK: Forecasting Wellington matches involves trying to guess which team is going to don the black jerseys on any given day. If it's the side that played Northland, it will be dangerous; if it's the team that met the two Bays, it's not. Manawatu is a given: hard, competitive, more accurate and less prone to meltdowns although maybe not as talented on paper. For the purposes of this call, it is assumed Wellington will turn up in the right frame of mind and therefore win by one score.


Wellington: 1. Reg Goodes, 2. Dane Coles, 3. Neemia Tialata, 4. Jeremy Thrush (capt), 5. Mark Reddish, 6. Brad Shields, 7. Scott Fuglistaller, 8. Faifili Levave, 9. TJ Perenara, 10. Lima Sopoaga, 11. Julian Savea, 12. Charlie Ngatai, 13. Michael Lealava'a, 14. Alipate Leiua, 15. Jason Woodward.

Reserves: 16. Motu Matu'u, 17. Jacob Ellison, 18. Joe Latta, 19. Dean Brunsdon, 20. Frae Wilson, 21. Michael Hobbs or Hayden Cripps, 22. Steve Honey, 23. Whetu Henry.

Manawatu: 1. Grant Polson, 2. Rob Foreman, 3. Ma'afu Fia, 4. Reece Robinson, 5. Michael Fitzgerald, 6. Nick Crosswell (capt), 7. Callum Gibbins, 8. Hamish Gosling, 9. Aaron Smith, 10. Aaron Cruden, 11. Junior Tomasi Cama, 12. Johnny Leota, 13. Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 14. Casey Stone, 15. Craig Clare.

Reserves: 16. Bryn Templeman, 17. Jared Brock, 18. Fraser Stone, 19. James Oliver, 20. Isaac Thompson, 21. Lewis Marshall or Frank Bryant, 22. Nehe Milne-Skudder or Karl Bryson, 23. David Te Moana.

REFEREE: Shaun Elliott