Preview: Wellington v Canterbury
Friday, September 20, 2013 Sportal.co.nz Getty Images
LAST TIME: September 8, 2012 (Addington) – Canterbury 20-12 Wellington.
MISSING IN ACTION: Wellington halfback Frae Wilson hobbled off in his side's most recent win over Bay of Plenty and isn't expected to be named in this encounter.
Tom Taylor's All Blacks call-up comes at the expense of fellow Cantabrian Colin Slade, who will suit up in the No.15 jersey for the visitors on Saturday. Another two players return for Canterbury after successfully returning from injury in their 32-22 win over Otago. Hooker Corey Flynn and left wing Johnny McNicholl graduating to the starting side after beginning on the bench last weekend.
FORM: Both sides have been in serious point-scoring form this season, with Wellington only missing out on maximum points once in six matches to date. Canterbury aren't far behind, securing a four-try bonus point in four of their six matches.
Wellington have scored a whopping 224 points in six matches at an average of 37 points per game. They've restricted their opponents to 94 points (16 per game) to ensure their points differential is the healthiest of all 14 ITM Cup teams.
Admittedly Wellington have had a relatively easy path to date. Starting with a big 55-16 win over Counties Manukau, they then defeated Taranaki, North Harbour, Manawatu, Northland and Bay of Plenty. Each of these sides are outside the top three in either division and so it's fair to say Wellington's points scoring hasn't been as impressive as it may seem.
The five-time defending champions, however, have been tested this year and come away triumphant over their opponents. After an easy 30-6 win over Taranaki, Cantebury defeated Tasman, Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Otago in their five matches.
While Taranaki, Waikato and Bay of Plenty aren't having vintage seasons to date, downing an impressive Tasman side in Blenheim was a key victory, as was their 32-22 win over Otago.
Canterbury's victories start in defence, where they lead the competition for the least points conceded. They've 185 points and leaked 69 to have the second-best points differential in the competition with 119. It's safe to say this match will really determine which team are favourites to take the competition.
Two unbeaten teams with plenty to prove should make for a fascinating encounter at Westpac Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
An early kicking duel will likely give fans a look-in to see which side has the better territorial tactician. While initially that honour looks to go to Tyler Bleyendaal, Wellington's Lima Sopoaga has made leaps and gains since his error-strung performances in the early stages of the campaign.
It will be close, there's no doubting that, with Canterbury's highly-experienced forward pack giving them the early advantage.
There is, however, something about this Wellington attack that has the potential to excite and exploit errors so we're tipping them in a close one.
Wellington by 5.
1. Joe Moody, 2. Corey Flynn, 3. Nepo Laulala, 4. Luke Katene, 5. Matt Symons, 6. George Whitelock (c), 7. Matt Todd, 8. Luke Whitelock, 9. Willi Heinz, 10. Tyler Bleyendaal, 11. Johnny McNicholl, 12. Ryan Crotty, 13. Adam Whitelock, 14. Patrick Osborne, 15. Colin Slade.
Substitutes: 16. Ben Funnell, 17. Paea Fa'anunu, 18. Joel Everson, 19. Jordan Taufua, 20. Andy Ellis, 21. Rob Thompson, 22. Milford Keresoma.
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