Preview: Wellington v Taranaki

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Friday, October 7, 2016    Getty Images

FORM: Wellington have hit a dark patch despite consolidating their place in the Championship playoffs. Their 28-50 humiliation in Palmerston North on Wednesday saw them blow a chance to all-but-confirm a home final, should they reach that stage. The loss was another sign of a topsy turvy season, which included a 60-21 win over Southland at home a week earlier, and a narrow 29-21 away win over Northland a week earlier. Despite their Turbo-charged hiccup, they sit atop the Championship standings, ahead of Otago on goal differential.

The visitors will be buoyed by their strong showing in a 34-39 home loss to Canterbury, even if it was the red and blacks’ third game in eight days. The loss ended a four match unbeaten streak that included victories over Southland (30-14), Counties Manukau (30-29) and Manawatu (30-19), as well as their last gasp 20-20 draw with Waikato in their Ranfury Shield encounter. They remain in fourth position in the Premiership with 27 points – behind third-placed Tasman on goal-differential - and just two points ahead of Counties Manukau.

Played: 171
Wins: Wellington 119, Taranaki 46, Draws 5, Abandonments 1
Last time: Wellington 19, Taranaki 14, New Plymouth 2015

Wellington: 1. Reggie Goodes, 2. Asafo Aumua, 3. Joe Apikotoa, 4. Isaia Walker-Leawere, 5. Mark Reddish (captain), 6. Vaea Fifita, 7. Galu Taufale, 8. Hoani Matenga, 9. Sheridan Rangihuna, 10. Pakai Turia, 11. Jason Woodward, 12. Shaun Treeby, 13. Wes Goosen, 14. Joe Hill, 15. Jackson Garden-Bachop.

Reserves: 16. Leni Apisai, 17. Ha’amea Ahio, 18. Alex Fidow, 19. James Blackwell, 20. Greg Foe, 21. Tomasi Palu, 22. Mike Lealava’a, 23. Lester Maulolo.

Taranaki: 1. Mitchell Graham, 2. Rhys Marshall, 3. Ryan Cocker, 4. Ben Matwijow, 5. Leighton Price, 6. Iopu Iopu-Aso, 7. Mitchell Crosswell (captain), 8. Toa Halafihi, 9. Kylem O’Donnell, 10. Marty McKenzie, 11. Latu Vaeno, 12. Johnny Faauli, 13. Seta Tamanivalu, 14. Declan O’Donnell, 15. Stephen Perofeta.

Reserves: 16. Harry Jones, 17. Jared Proffit, 18. Reuben O’Neill, 19. Mitchell Brown, 20. Berny Hall, 21. Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22. Sean Wainui, 23. Jackson Ormond.

Squad Update: Wellington have pulled captain Brad Shields for Sunday’s game. The hard-working loose forward has been given a rest alongside Sam Lousi. He’s joined by no less than three players who are recovering from concussion symptoms, namely Malo Tuitama, Chris Baumann and Matt Proctor. Peter Umanga-Jensen also wasn’t considered for selection with a shoulder injury.

In stark contrast, Taranaki welcome their captain back from an injury-enforced layoff. Mitchell Crosswell returns to lead a side teaming with consistency in selection. Latu Vaeno, Declan O’Donnell (wings) and Stephen Perofeta (fullback) start their third consecutive matches in the backs, while Ben Matwijow and Leighton Price retain their spots as the two locks for the fourth straight game.

Key Players: With Shields out, a lot of the impetus will come from veteran Mark Reddish. The industrious lock will have it all to do if he is to ensure his Lions pack puts on a consistent performance, something they have struggled with throughout the season. The match is a good opportunity for Pakai Turia to seize his chance at first five-eighths, with Jackson Garden-Bachop moved to fullback.

For the Bulls, Iopu Iopu-Aso and Toa Halafihi have been outstanding as they compete for the coveted No.8 spot. This time it is Halafihi who has taken the reins at the back of the scrum, but Iopu-Aso has consolidated his spot in the starting side by taking one of the loose forward positions alongside the outstanding Crosswell.