PREVIEW: Wellington v North Harbour

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Thursday, September 1, 2016    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Form: Wellington suffered a heavy, and surprise, 21-44 loss to Otago in Dunedin as Otago ran in five tries to three. Wellington had won their first game of the season, against Hawke's Bay 36-26. North Harbour were competitive but ultimately paid the price for a slow start in the Ranfurly Shield match with Waikato when going down 15-26 last week. In the first round North Harbour kicked off the season with an impressive 20-17 win over Counties Manukau.

Played: 29

Wins: Wellington 18, North Harbour 11

Last match: North Harbour 0 Wellington 43, Albany 2015

Wellington: 1.Vince Sakaria, 2.Leni Apisai, 3.Chris Baumann, 4.Hoani Matenga, 5. Isaia Walker-Leawere, 6.Vaea Fifita, 7.Greg Foe, 8.Brad Shields (captain), 9.Tomasi Palu, 10.Jackson Garden-Bachop, 11.Wes Goosen, 12.Shaun Treeby, 13.Matt Proctor, 14.Joe Hill, 15.Peter Umaga-Jensen.

Substitutes: 16.Asafo Aumua, 17.Alex Fidow, 18.Joe Apikotoa, 19.Sam Lousi, 20.Galu Taufale, 21.Sheridan Rangihuna, 22.TJ Va'a, 23.Mike Lealavaia.

North Harbour: 1.Nic Mayhew, 2.James Parsons, 3.Sione Mafileo, 4.Brandon Nansen, 5.Chris Vui, 6.Josh Tyrell, 7.Connor Collett, 8.Murphy Taramai, 9.Bryn Hall, 10.Matt McGahan, 11.Tevita Li, 12. Michael Little, 13.Matt Vaega, 14.Afa Faatau, 15.Matt Duffie.

Substitutes: 16.Vyron Smith, 17.Hani Fatai, 18.Karl Tu'inukuafe, 19.Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 20.Hapakuki Moala-Liavaa, 21.Chris Smylie, 22.Bryn Gatland, 23.Daniel Hilton-Jones.

Squad Update: Halfback Tomasi Palu returns to the side after a family bereavement meant he missed the Otago game while Isaia Walker-Leawere has been named at lock ahead of Sam Lousi. A switch in the loose forwards has seen Brad Shields shift to No.8 while Vaea Fifita returns to the blindside of the scrum. Galu Taufale has returned to the reserves after recovering from a calf strain.

For North Harbour hooker James Parsons is back from Test duty with the All Blacks while Chris Vui moves from the blindside flank to lock with Josh Tyrell on the side of the scrum. Connor Collett is named on the side of the scrum in place of Kane Jacobson. Matt McGahan has the start at first five-eighths with Bryn Gatland in the reserves.

Key Players: Wellington's pack are going to have to be on their game against a North Harbour unit that showed what it was capable of, especially in their opening game against Counties Manukau and belatedly, after the horse had bolted, against Waikato last week. Backing that loose forwards Brad Shields and Vaea Fifita will have to get over the advantage line plenty of times to allow the Wellington backs some freedom. The more ball centre Matt Proctor can get his hands on the more chance Wellington will have of success.

North Harbour's pack, led by the industrious Parsons with Nic Mayhew, fresh from his signing with the Brumbies for next season, look a competitive unit and the inexperienced Harbour loose forwards will face pressure to compete. There is speed to burn in the Harbour backline and first five-eighths Matt McGahan will need to ensure mid-fields Michael Little and Matt Vaega get as much opportunity as possible.