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Air NZ Cup Preview: Wellington v Taranaki

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Friday, October 10, 2008    Sportal.co.nz    Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: Westpac Stadium, Wellington, Saturday October 11, 17.05 NZT.

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 163 – Wellington 113, Taranaki 44, drawn 5, abandoned 1.

LAST TIME: September 20, 2007 (Wellington) – Wellington 53-12 Taranaki.

WALKING WOUNDED: Wellington was forced to play revolving props during the week, which also impacted on two other playoff teams. Neemia Tialata (knee) and John Schwalger (ankle) were in doubt all week and loan players Arden David-Perrot (Bay of Plenty) and Anthony Perenise (Hawke's Bay) were called back as cover. Victor Vito has torn knee ligaments so he, too, is out of this match. At least Wellington has a bunch of able replacements since half the first team didn't start last week. Taranaki has made one injury-enforced change, with Jonathan Spratt (back) forced out of the starting lineup. Nathan Hohaia takes his place in midfield.

FORM: Wellington has slipped from its previously impeccable standard over the last two weeks but not too much could be read into last week's loss, as a bunch of first-string players had the weekend off. It was still a comprehensive defeat, though, and some of the implications won't have been lost on Taranaki. After apparently blowing its chance with a last-minute loss against Waikato – ironically, after its best attacking effort of the season – Taranaki was handed a lifeline when Auckland failed to get two points against Northland; almost everyone missed the fact that one was not enough for Auckland to go through. Given that reprieve, Taranaki has nothing to lose this week.

WHO'S HOT: Wellington will look to its season-long stars in this match and Jeremy Thrush, Hosea Gear and Cory Jane – three of the Lions' best – are also strong candidates for end-of-year tour places. There is no doubt the side has heard about its recent failings at training and the entire squad should be ready to go. Taranaki will be pleased Jayden Hayward has recovered after being levelled by Sione Lauaki's shoulder charge last week, as he was tearing the Waikato defence to pieces before that happened and the amber-and-blacks hardly fired a shot afterwards. Andrew Hore and Scott Waldrom can be relied upon to give maximum effort in a willing pack.

WE THINK: There's just something about Taranaki that brings out Wellington's nasty side – the Lions have posted scores over 30 in each of the last eight championship meetings. We're picking Wellington will make it nine in a row as they progress to the semi-finals.

TEAMS:

Wellington: 1 – John Schwalger, 2 – Dane Coles, 3 – Tim Fairbrother, 4 – Ross Filipo, 5 – Jeremy Thrush, 6 – Chris Masoe, 7 – Scott Fuglistaller, 8 – Thomas Waldrom, 9 – Alby Mathewson, 10 – Piri Weepu (captain), 11 – Hosea Gear, 12 – Ma'a Nonu, 13 – Tamati Ellison, 14 – Buxton Popoali'i, 15 – Cory Jane.

Reserves: 16 – Ged Robinson, 17 – Jacob Ellison, 18 – Api Naikatini, 19 – Rodney So'oialo, 20 – Daniel Kirkpatrick, 21 – Michael Hobbs, 22 – Tane Tu'ipulotu.

Taranaki: 1- Tony Penn (captain), 2- Andrew Hore, 3- Shane Cleaver, 4- Jason Eaton, 5- Craig Clarke, 6- Chris Walker, 7- Scott Waldrom, 8- Taiasina Tuifua, 9- Brett Goodin, 10- Willie Ripia, 11- Shayne Austin, 12- Jayden Hayward, 13- Nathan Hohaia, 14- Paul Perez, 15- Jack Cameron.

Reserves: 16- Laurence Corlett, 17- Hamish Mitchell, 18- Leon Power, 19- Nemia Soqeta, 20- Brendan Haami, 21- Isaia Tuifua, 22- Cory Niwa.

REFEREE: Bryce Lawrence