Preview: Wellington v Tasman

Getty Images

Thursday, September 10, 2015    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Form: Wellington have been imperious so far throughout the 2015 campaign, no opponent they have crossed paths with this season with the exception of Taranaki has been able to fight fire-with-fire against the rampant Lions.

Since defeating the Amber and Blacks 19-14, Wellington has recorded 43-0 (North Harbour), 29-0 (Northland) and 53-3 (Southland) triumphs – they lead the bulk of the ITM Cup statistic's charts and remarkably have conceded just 4.25 points per game.

Only one question remains early in the piece, the men from the capital are still to come up against a side with some form behind them, and the Makos fit this bill superbly.

Tasman are well at home in the top division of New Zealand domestic rugby and completed their fine opening month with a 34-17 victory over Otago in Dunedin.

Like their opponents, they are still to come up against a genuine heavyweight, the Makos other victories have been against Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Manawatu.

This match is the very definition of litmus test for both unions.

Friday 11 September, 7.35pm at Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Played: 6, 2006-2014
Tasman wins: 1 | Wellington wins: 5

Last match: Tasman 42 Wellington 20, 21.09.14 in Wellington (ITMC)
Last Wellington win: Wellington 20 Tasman 14, 01.08.10 in Wellington (ITMC)
Biggest Wellington score: 39 (39-25), 10.09.06 in Wellington (ANZC)
Biggest Tasman score: 25 (25-39), 10.09.06 in Wellington (ANZC); and (25-38), 25.08.07 in Wellington (ANZC)
Biggest differential: Wellington by 14 (39-25), 10.09.06 in Wellington (ANZC)

Squad update: Wellington coach Earl Va’a has named just one change to Friday night’s starting line-up, with Tomasi Alosio set to get his ITM Cup debut start at centre, replacing Matt Proctor who sits this week’s match out with tender ribs.

Alosio’s elevation brings the recovered Marvin Karawana back onto the bench in what is the only other change to the Lions’ match day 23.

Meanwhile Tasman Makos coaches Kieran Keane and Leon MacDonald have made three changes to their starting XV and reshuffled their bench for Friday's match-up with Wellington at Westpac Stadium in the capital.

The coaches have opted for a more experienced mix as they prepare to take on a side who are unbeaten in the championship division this season. Quentin MacDonald reclaims the number two jersey from younger brother Jesse, Alex Ainley comes in for lock Marco Kotze, who returns to the bench, and Kieron Fonotia regains the centre spot, in place of Trael Joass.

Central prop Jake Stafford-Wood rejoins the reserves, in place of Brock Kaahu, Jeff Lepa and Joass drop out of the match day 23 while Kade Poki, who impressed for the Tasman Red Devils on Saturday, earns a place on the bench for the first time this season.

Key players: Wellington is the best tackling team this season with an 88.5% success rate, hardly surprising considering they have conceded quite remarkably just 17 points across four games.

Most of the defensive destruction is being taken care of in the tight corridors, the likes of Hoani Matenga, Leni Apisai and Brad Shield have been leading the way here, which in turn has allowed flankers Vaea Fifita and Ardie Savea to wreak havoc if turnover possession comes there way.

Fifita in particular has been one of the primary offensive weapons for the Lions, the blindside flanker is in the top five of most attacking stat charts and is far and away the most lethal forward so far this season with ball in hand.

Jonny Bentley and Joe Hill have been revelations in the backline and will want to continue their strong form, while Cory Jane has already shown his class and ability to get involved, the All Blacks three-quarter leads the ITM Cup with 17 offloads.

Tasman’s efforts could perhaps be best summed up by their attitude when talking to the media, despite sitting top-of-the-table the Makos remain their biggest critics – veteran Joe Wheeler believes the team is still to produce their best rugby and has been "scratchy" so far.

Up front the tempo is being set by the Tasman big men, their pack likes to get around the field and while not overawed at the set piece, it isn’t a factor of their game they tend to promote.

However Liam Squire, Shane Christie, Tim Perry and Ross Geldenhuys are grizzled performers and will back themselves to match Wellington’s efforts at the coal face.

Marty Banks has been the standout out wide for the Makos but his powers of attacking persuasion will be well tested against the finest defence in the tournament.

While blindside flank Peter Samu leads Tasman’s try scoring efforts, the workload has been spread out around the Makos back division, but if Wellington is to be beaten, then speed could play a part, and Viliami Lolohea and David Havili will want to put in season best performances to ensure they give Tasman every chance of unlocking the Lions defence.