Preview: Wellington v Auckland

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Saturday, October 5, 2013    Getty Images

Can they upset Wellington and move to the top of the Premiership?

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 174; Wellington 78, Auckland 93, drawn 3

LAST TIME: Auckland 33 def Wellington 22, (2012 Premiership semi-final) at Westpac Stadium.

MISSING IN ACTION: He was originally targeting a spot in the November tour, but wing Cory Jane's earlier-than-expected return will give the Lions' backline a boost in the absence of wing Ambrose Curtis. He starts on the bench, while Alapati Sopoaga gets a chance on the left wing.

Auckland coach Wayne Pivac continues his prop rotation policy, with Pauliasi Manu's inclusion in the No.1 jersey the sole change to the starting line-up.

FORM: Eight wins from eight matches says it all for the competition front runners, who despite an unblemished record have been made to work hard for some of their victories. Tight wins over North Harbour and Waikato ensured the hosts kept their complacency at check, and with their gruelling three-game spell well and truly over with their attention can now turn to fine-tuning their game ahead of the semi-finals in mid-October.
Auckland, too, have been impressive this season. Seven wins in eight matches, including an impressive victory over Canterbury in their most recent outing, have Auckland trailing the competition leaders by just three points with two rounds remaining. Both teams can still be overhauled by Canterbury in the final round of play, but that seems an unlikely task.

Auckland's enterprise on attack will need to be matched by a willingness to defend if they are to move to the top of the Premiership. Wellington's unpredictable style of play has wreaked havoc in 2013, while Jane's return from the bench should also help spark the hosts.
Expect a tight tussle up front before Wellington's loose forward trio of Brad Shields, Ardie Savea and captain Victor Vito get the advantage at the breakdown. From there it's only a matter of time before the likes of the impressive Shaun Treeby, Tim Bateman and Charlie Ngatai get their hands on the ball. Wellington by 8.

Wellington: 1. John Schwalger, 2. Motu Matu'u, 3. Jefferey Toomaga-Allen, 4. Mark Reddish, 5. Api Naikatini, 6. Brad Shields, 7. Ardie Savea, 8. Victor Vito (c), 9. Tomasi Palu, 10. Lima Sopoaga, 11. Alapati Sopoaga, 12. Shaun Treeby, 13. Tim Bateman, 14. Joe Hill, 15. Charlie Ngatai.

Reserves: 16. Reggie Goodes, 17. Eric Sione, 18. Genesis Mamea, 19. Faifili Levave, 20. Adam Hill, 21. Kayne Hammington, 22. Cory Jane.

Auckland: 1.Pauliasi Manu, 2.Tom McCartney, 3.Angus Ta'avao, 4.Liaki Moli, 5.Jack Whetton, 6.Sean Polwart, 7.Kara Pryor, 8.Peter Saili, 9.Wayne Ngaluafe, 10.Simon Hickey, 11.George Moala, 12.Hadleigh Parkes (captain), 13.Malakai Fekitoa, 14.Tenina Sauileoge, 15.Lolagi Visinia.

Reserves: 16.Nathan Vella, 17. Sam Prattley, 18.So'otala Fa'aso'o, 19.Sean Brookman, 20.Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 21.Junior Poluleuligaga, 22.Melani Nanai.