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Preview: Taranaki v Wellington

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Thursday, August 22, 2013    Sportal.co.nz    Getty Images

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 168; Taranaki 45, Wellington 117, drawn 5, abandoned 1.

LAST TIME: Wellington 33 def Taranaki 17, October 14, 2012 (Wellington)

MISSING IN ACTION: Daniel Brooks and Rhys Marshall make their starting debuts at first-five and hooker respectively for Taranaki.

For the Hurricanes, Motu Matu'u returns to the starting hooker role for the first time since breaking his arm in April. Matu'u is joined by Reggie Goodes, Eric Sione and Ardie Savea as those returning from the medical ward.

Charlie Ngatai and Ross Filipo are back from their Investec Super Rugby break and start at fullback and lock respectively.

FORM: Wellington were ruthless in the opening match of the 2013 ITM Cup, a 55-16 hammering of newly-promoted Counties Manukau. With a side bolstered with a number of current or former All Black forwards, Wellington bullied their way through their opening match to post an emphatic first-round win.

With Brad Shields, John Schwalger, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Filipo, and, of course, captain Victor Vito, there is plenty of optimism around Wellington's forward pack in 2013.

Taranaki, meanwhile, presented Canterbury with very little in the way of attack and marginally more in defence in their 6-30 loss to the five-time defending champions.

The side has a level headed captain in Kane Barrett while Hurricanes utility Andre Taylor should cause opposition defences some headaches in the No.13 jersey.

They'll need a sharp improvement, however, if they are to finish the weekend with a one-win, one-loss record.

WE THINK:
Wellington's intimidating forward pack should be too much for Taranaki to handle despite having home advantage.

The visitors barely got out of second gear against Counties but always looked a class above the 2012 ITM Cup Championship victors.

Expect an entertaining affair but a large Wellington win to make the perfect start to the season. Wellington by 25.

TEAMS:
Taranaki:
1. Carl Carmichael, 2. Rhys Marshall, 3. Shane Cleaver, 4. Jarrad Hoeata, 5. James Broadhurst, 6. Kane Barrett (c), 7. Doug Tietjens, 8. Blade Thomson, 9. Chris Smylie, 10. Daniel Brooks, 11. Waisake Naholo, 12. Ope Peleseuma, 13. Andre Taylor, 14. Jackson Ormond, 15. Kurt Baker

Substitutes: 16. Timo Tutavaha, 17. Sione Lea, 18. Nemia Soqeta, 19. Mitchell Crosswell, 20. Jamison Gibson-Park, 21. Beaudein Waaka, 22. Seta Tamanivalu.

Wellington:
1. John Schwalger, 2. Motu Matu'u, 3. Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 4. Ross Filipo, 5. Mark Reddish, 6. Faifili Levave, 7. Adam Hill, 8. Victor Vito (c), 9. Frae Wilson, 10. Lima Sopoaga, 11. Joe Hill, 12. Shaun Treeby, 13. Tim Bateman, 14. Matt Proctor, 15. Charlie Ngatai.

Substitutes: 16. Reggie Goodes, 17. Eric Sione, 18. Kaipati Gaualofa, 19. Brad Shields, 20. Ardie Savea, 21. Tomasi Palu, 22. Afa Fa'atau.