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Premiership preview: Wellington v Auckland

Wednesday, October 3, 2018    Campbell Burnes    

Match details: Thursday October 4, 7.35pm at Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Referee: Nick Briant (Bay of Plenty)
Played: 176 (1883-2014)
Wins: Auckland 94, Wellington 79, Drawn 3
Last match: Auckland 31 Wellington 30 (September 6, 2014, Premiership)

TALE OF THE TAPE

A rare Thursday night encounter for the old and the current capitals may just be instructive as to how these unions are tracking with the playoffs just a fortnight away.

Wellington has shown sound form back up in the Premiership after three seasons (2015-17) in the Championship, but came a cropper 28-22 to Tasman last weekend, the Lions’ first home reverse in 10 matches.

Auckland had a slow and steady start to its Premiership assault, but then dominated Waikato, Tasman and Canterbury in an impressive run before a narrow victory against Taranaki and last Friday night’s first loss of 2018, to Otago at Eden Park.

The TAB has Wellington as favourite, so the heat is on the Lions to justify that call.

QUICK TAP: MITRE 10 CUP REVIEW-WEEK SEVEN

JUICY MATCH-UP

How does Auckland loosehead prop Sam Prattley against Wellington tighthead Jeff Toomaga-Allen grab you?

Two veterans, both born in 1990, are key to their sides’ scrummaging. Prattley is closing in on 50 caps for Auckland and has been an important cog in a robust scrum for the Rangitoto Yanks, as former Wellington coach Earle Kirton would call them, while Toomaga-Allen is the ‘veteran’ of a very young but highly talented Lions pack. Expect no quarter asked and none given at set-piece and in the collisions.

THE INSIDE WORD

Wellington coach Chris Gibbes has been pleased with the response from his charges since Saturday’s defeat by the Mako.

“While we have a relatively short turnaround there has been a real focus on what we need to do to improve in certain areas,” he says.

“Auckland have been in really good form all season so we know the level of task ahead of us.”

Auckland coach Alama Ieremia needs no advice on what Wellington is capable of. He played 65 games for the capital from 1992-2000, winning the NPC in his final year.

“Wellington are a very good team. They’re young, energetic, enthusiastic and they’ve been coached well by some pretty experienced coaches there, so we’ve just got to make sure we’re up for it," says the former All Blacks and Manu Samoa midfielder.
THE SCOOP

Auckland will look to tidy up its defence after conceding 61 points in its last two outings, and will seek to maximise attacking options after a dominant scrum against Otago did not translate into a win.

Lock Michael Fatialofa returns from injury and he knows this ground better than any of his teammates, having been a key cog in the Hurricanes’ pack for several seasons. Robbie Abel is back at hooker, and he has no less than five viable lineout options to throw to. In the backs, TJ Faiane and Melani Nanai bolster the squad, while Jacob Umaga took his chance at fullback against Otago and will look to offer more variation at first or second receiver in phase play.



Jackson Garden-Bachop and Matt Proctor will run out for their 50th games for the province. Proctor returns as one of three changes to the starting XV, while Ben Lam shifts back to the left wing. Lock Sam Lousi returns from injury. He is bracketed on the bench and a call will be made the warm-up. Thomas Waldrom and Billy Proctor will also add impact from the pine.

Wellington looks to have plenty of firepower in the backs, but the pack will need to assert itself against an Auckland eight that is extracting maximum value from the breakdown, thanks partially to the guidance of forwards coach Filo Tiatia, a man who played 80 times for the Lions.

TEAMS
Wellington:
Wes Goosen, Malo Tuitama, Matt Proctor (c), Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Ben Lam, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Kemara Hauiti-Parapara, Teariki Ben-Nicholas, Mateaki Kafatolu, Galu Taufale, Isaia Walker-Leawere, James Blackwell, Jeff Toomaga-Allen, Asafo Aumua, Xavier Numia
Reserves: James O’Reilly, Tolu Fahamokoia, Joel Hintz, Sam Lousi/Will Mangos, Thomas Waldrom, Carlos Price, Billy Proctor, Trent Renata

Auckland: Jacob Umaga, Melani Nanai, Tumua Manu, TJ Faiane (c), Salesi Rayasi, Harry Plummer, Leon Fukofuka, Akira Ioane, Dalton Papali’i, Evan Olmstead, Fa’atiga Lemalu, Michael Fatialofa, Marcel Renata, Robbie Abel, Sam Prattley
Reserves: Mike Sosene, Ezekiel Lindenmuth, Marco Fepulea’i, Jamie Lane, Hoskins Sotutu, Jonathan Ruru, Caleb Clarke, Jordan Trainor