Preview: Hawke’s Bay v Wellington

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Wednesday, October 1, 2014    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Wednesday 1 October, 7.35pm at McLean Park, Napier
Played: 94, 1885-2013
Hawke's Bay wins: 29 | Wellington wins: 60 | Draws: 5

Squad update: An oddly out of touch Ihaia West was almost scratched from today’s team, with the 22-year-old suffering from flu during his last outing which explained why his usual fireworks were not on full display against Harbour.

He keeps his place in the side but the return of captain Brendon O’Connor and hooker Ash Dixon will be welcome reinforcements for a Hawke’s Bay team that will be wary of a Wellington pack that has been misfiring for the bulk of the season but have shown moments of their worth.

Lions coach Chris Boyd has kept the faith, despite his team being on the receiving end of a 55-7 thumping by Counties.

Matt Proctor shifts to fullback, while there is a new midfield featuring Ope Peleseuma and Marvin Karawana, while cleared to play Jason Woodward will line up on the right wing.

Vaea Fifita is the only alteration to Wellington’s pack, replacing the injured Mark Reddish, while Ross Filipo and Victor Vito remaining in the visitor’s starting team.

Form: Hawke’s Bay, despite their feats in winning the Shield against the Steelers and holding off challenges from Otago and Bay of Plenty, have lost two matches and defeat here could cost the union their position in the ITM Cup Championship top four.

Overall history is against the home team who are seeking their 30th win in the 95th match in the rivalry, while victory would be the 50th time that Hawke’s Bay have defended the Ranfurly Shield since their first success in 1922.

Recent pedigree however suggests that the Magpies, who have the best defence in the entire competition, will be too much for the winless visitors.

Already in what is unwanted record territory, Wellington’s worse ever domestic season could be invigorated with a Shield parade down Lambton Quay in the coming days.

Without a triumph in seven matches, another failure for the 2013 runners-up will mathematically confirm their relegation to the second tier Championship.

Last match: Hawke's Bay 34 Wellington 14, 10.10.13 in Napier (ITMC)

Last Wellington win: Wellington 30 Hawke's Bay 15, 28.08.12 in Wellington (ITMC)

Biggest Wellington score: 67 (67-36), 18.05.95 in Napier

Biggest Hawke's Bay score: 58 (58-8), 14.08.26 in Napier

Biggest differential: Hawke's Bay by 50 (58-8), 14.08.26 in Napier

Key players: Ash Dixon plays his 50th game for the Magpies, and comes back into the team alongside O’Connor as well as Brendon Edmonds, Michael Allardice, Chris Eaton and Jason Shoemark – and the strengthened side is expected to run out in front of over 10,000.

Out wide Shannan Chase has kept his spot despite some late match heroics from Mikey Vuicakau, while other strike weapons in Richard Buckman, Ryan Tongia and Robbie Fruean will be eager to test a defence that has leaked 35 tries this year.

Few Lions will be happy with their efforts so far, but a young team with plenty of rising talent could engineer a dramatic reversal if they win the Shield for the first time since 2008 – although Taranaki and North Harbour will then receive challenges in the capital as the regular season comes to an end.

Willie Ripia has been adding a bit of control but no Wellington player has stood up and taken control of a contest this season, if that changes in front of a packed McLean Park, Lions fans will have a pleasant alternative conversation topic.