Wellington primed for Premiership run

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Wednesday, August 15, 2018    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Losing only one game in last season's competition, a crossover game against Premiership semifinalists Tasman, and that by only two points 35-37, Wellington dominated the Championship. 

Along the way they broke the record for most tries in a season ending the campaign with 74 tries.

The only major losses for the side are All Blacks wing Julian Savea (32 games) and Hurricanes captain and loose forward Brad Shields (60), both of them off to northern hemisphere sides. 

But back in the team for the first time since 2009 at which time he had played 80 times for the side is four-cap England Test player Thomas Waldrom. The loose forward who went to Hawke's Bay in 2010, had also played 56 Investec Super Rugby games, 30 for the Hurricanes (2004-2008) and 26 for the Crusaders in (2009-10).  

He went to Leicester and in five seasons appeared 78 times while in another four seasons he played 55 times for Exeter before deciding to head home and finish out his career with his Wellington team. 

Coach Chris Gibbes has named Wellington's All Blacks in the squad, although their appearances are likely to be dependent on the All Blacks' selectors requirements. 

Up front the side looks well catered for with Asafo Aumua looking to mark his return from injury that curtailed his Hurricanes season at hooker where Leni Apisai also offers plenty of experience. James O'Reilly is also in the mix along with Dane Coles who has also been listed and the competition may be an avenue for him to gain game time ahead of the All Blacks' campaign. 

Jeff To'omaga-Allen, Alex Fidow, Tolu Fahamoikioa offer scrummaging strength at prop. 

Hurricanes lock Sam Lousi will be a key element in the pack with support from James Blackwell, Will Mangos, and Isaia Walker-Leawere. 
Young flanker Du Plessis Kirifi made a big impression last year and with the chance to work with the likes of Vaea Fifita, Galu Taufale and Waldrom there should be some healthy competition in the loose.

Tawa's Kemara Hauiti-Parapara and Petone's Carlos Price both had a taste of provincial action last year at halfback while Sherdian Rangihuna, who has 27 games for the province, is likely to set the pace in the role. 

Jackson Garden-Bachop had a limited season with the Hurricanes but can be expected to have a significant role for the Lions this year. He's got 41 games behind since 2013 and will have TJ Va'a keeping the pressure on in the role. 

The midfield offers some interesting choices with Hurricanes Wes Goosen and Matt Proctor joined by Billy Proctor, Malo Tuitama and Thomas Umaga-Jensen. Matt Proctor has also been named as Captain with last year's skipper Brad Shields heading offshore to play for Wasps in the UK. 

Julian Savea may have departed but with Ben Lam on the left wing Wellington has a powerhouse who can expect plenty of work for the side. Peter Umaga-Jensen missed last season but had eight appearances in 2016 and has been part of the Hurricanes squad since. Losi Filipo is also available for the side. 

Trent Renata is the only player named at fullback but is one of the most experienced players in the squad. 

One obvious focal point for Wellington is the prospect that if Taranaki are able to hold the Ranfurly Shield through four defences they will have a challenge on October 12. Wellington last held the shield in 2009.  

Division: Premiership

Last year: Championship winners 

The Wellington Lions squad is: Leni Apisai, Asafo Aumua, James Blackwell, Dane Coles, Tolu Fahamokioa, Alex Fidow, Vaea Fifita, Lose Filipo, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Wes Goosen, Kemara Hauiti-Parapara, Du Plessis Kirifi, Ben Lam, Sam Lousi, Will Mangos, James O'Reilly, TJ Perenara, Carlos Price, Billy Proctor, Matt Proctor, Sheridan Rangihuna, Trent Renata, Ardie Savea, Galu Taufale, Jeffery To'omaga-Allen, Malo Tuitama, Peter Umaga-Jensen, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, TJ Va'a, Isaia Walker Leawere, Thomas Waldrom.