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Match preview: Canterbury vs. Wellington

Fotopress

Thursday, September 22, 2005    allblacks.com    Fotopress

Ahead of the two teams’ 32nd meeting in the NPC on Friday night, Wellington has claimed 16 wins in the championship to Canterbury’s 13, with two matches drawn.

Although Canterbury beat Wellington 40-27 in last year’s championship final to claim the title, that was only the South Islanders’ second win over the capital side in their last eight NPC meetings going back to 1999. The other was a last-gasp 31-29 victory in a 2001 Ranfurly Shield match at Jade Stadium.

While that sequence offers hope to a Wellington side buoyed by consecutive wins over Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Southland, Wellington hasn’t won at Jade Stadium since prevailing 34-29 in the 2000 NPC final.

John Plumtree’s men will also need to turn the clock back 49 years and one day, in terms of Ranfurly Shield history, with 22 September 1956 representing the only previous occasion that Wellington has won a Shield match in Christchurch, when it triumphed 8-0. Canterbury’s gritty performance in seeing off the Waikato challenge last Saturday night indicates that the holders will not give up on their prize easily.

Although the bulk of their All Blacks contingent won’t return to NPC duty until next week, prop Greg Somerville has been cleared to play. His presence should only strengthen a Canterbury forward unit that exerted severe pressure on Waikato.

First-five-eighths Cameron MacIntyre will also take his place after sustaining a heavy knock against Waikato although All Black Leon MacDonald’s bid for inclusion ended when he failed to make it through a fitness test earlier in the week.

Wellington’s All Blacks flanker Jerry Collins returns for his first start of this year’s championship. Collins’ presence adds to the firepower of one of the competition’s form teams, with Wellington having scored 16 tries during the last three weeks. Canterbury has managed just seven over the same period.

Should Wellington be successful in lifting the Shield, the trophy will not be seen again until next season as the Lions have finished their home programme in the NPC.

Nine and still waiting…

Wellington has unsuccessfully challenged for the Ranfurly Shield nine times since they last held it back in 1982. Ironically, it was Canterbury who beat Wellington 16-12 on 16 September 1982 to claim the log in what was the first of five Ranfurly Shield matches that have been played between the two unions during the Air New Zealand NPC era. Canterbury has won four of those with the other being the exciting 38-38 draw in 2003. Wellington’s first challenge after surrendering the Shield to Canterbury was at Lancaster Park in 1983, when two tries by current Canterbury manager Tony Thorpe helped the red and blacks to win 20-16. The full list of Wellington’s unsuccessful challenges since 1982 is: 1983 (Canterbury), 1987 (Auckland), 1989 (Auckland), 1991 (Auckland), 1993 (Auckland), 1995 (Canterbury), 1999 (Waikato), 2001 (Canterbury) and 2003 (Canterbury). In total, Canterbury and Wellington have featured in 16 Shield matches, with Canterbury claiming nine wins, Wellington five, with two draws. Interestingly Wellington won the first four games, which included making two successful Shield defences against Canterbury inside of three weeks in 1919.

Teams
Canterbury: Ben Blair, Steven Yates, Casey Laulala, Caleb Ralph, Scott Hamilton, Cameron McIntyre, Andrew Ellis, Mose Tuiali'i, Johnny Leo'o, Reuben Thorne (captain), Kevin O'Neill, Craig Clarke, Campbell Johnstone, Corey Flynn/Tone Kopelani, Greg Somerville.
Reserves: Kopelani/Ti'i Paulo, Wyatt Crockett, George Naoupu, Hayden Hopgood, Jamie Nutbrown, Steven Brett, Vilimoni Delasau.

Wellington: Shannon Paku, Lome Fa'atau, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu (captain), Roy Kinikinilau, Jimmy Gopperth, Piri Weepu, Thomas Waldrom, Ben Herring, Jerry Collins, Luke Andrews, Ross Filipo, Neemia Tialata, Luke Mahoney, John Schwalger.
Reserves: Hosea Gear, Tamati Ellison, Brendan Haami, Serge Lilo, Ross Kennedy, Tim Fairbrother, Mahonri Schwalger.
Northland has beaten Auckland only once in 23 previous meetings in the Air New Zealand NPC. That was at Eden Park in 2001, where current Auckland and All Blacks hooker Derren Witcombe came off the bench for Northland during a high-scoring 44-43 thriller.

Canterbury v Wellington, Christchurch (Ranfurly Shield)
Kick-off: Friday at 7.35pm
Referee: Bryce Lawrence (Bay of Plenty)
TAB Odds: Canterbury $1.65, Wellington $2.15