Preview: Counties v Wellington

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Saturday, September 27, 2014    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Saturday 27 September, 5.35pm at ECOLight Stadium, Pukekohe
Played: 29, 1976-2011
Wellington wins: 16 | Counties Manukau wins: 11 | Draws: 2

Squad update: Coach Tana Umaga has named what looks to be a full strength side, with forward Jimmy Tupou returning at lock along with Onosa'i Auva'a who comes in at openside flanker, while Sherwin Stowers starts at fullback.

On the bench Loose forward Sam Henwood will get his chance to make his ITM Cup debut from the bench and is joined by Sam Vaka. Ronald Raaymakers will take over the captaincy duties for the game which is centre Reynold Lee-Lo's 50th match for the Steelers.

Wellington meanwhile welcome back Vito in what is the only change to the forward pack, while there has been a reshuffle in the backline.

Ambrose Curtis switches wings, while Jason Woodward returns from suspension to occupy the right wing spot. Coming back from a knee injury, Ope Peleseuma will slot into second five-eighth, and Jackson Garden-Bachop picks up the fullback jersey after a promising display off the bench last weekend.

Form: Since losing the Ranfurly Shield Counties have slumped to four straight losses, although they put together one of their best performances of the season when putting the frighteners on Canterbury in the second half.

Umaga has called out Steelers fans for their penultimate home match of the season, as the team looks for their first victory over Wellington since 2010.

For the Lions, success is non-negotiable if anything is to be salvaged out of this season, they have four matches remaining in what is now a quest to remain in the Premiership.

Last match: Wellington 55 Counties Manukau 16, 15.08.13 in Pukekohe (ITMC)

Last Counties Manukau win: Counties Manukau 31 Wellington 25, 08.08.10 in Wellington (ITMC)

Biggest Wellington score: 64 (64-7), 15.08.08 in Wellington (ANZC)

Biggest Counties Manukau score: 43 (43-9), 01.10.77 in Wellington (NPC)

Biggest differential: Wellington by 57 (64-7), 15.08.08 in Wellington (ANZC)

Key players: With Lee-lo the sixth Counties player to bring up fifty matches for the union, the side isn’t lacking for experience, while Tim Nanai-Williams drops to the bench.

With Stowers coming into the starting team, the Steelers backline drips menace, while Frank Halai, who scored two tries against Canterbury, will look to back up his efforts against the Lions.

The return of Vito strengthens up the Lions pack, who have showed signs of their worth this season but are still searching for that brutal performance up front that was one of their hallmarks in 2013.

Willie Ripia is given another chance to show his wares at first five-eighth amidst one of the greenest Wellington backlines in recent years, while Woodward’s return to the right wing should give the team more options with the boot.