Air NZ Cup semi-final preview: Wellington v Southland

Getty Images

Thursday, October 16, 2008    Getty Images

The 2008 Stags look to be made of sterner stuff and a much better match is in prospect this Friday.

VENUE & TIME: Westpac Stadium, Wellington, Friday October 17, 19.35 NZT.

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 88 – Southland 24, Wellington 57, drawn 7.

LAST TIME: August 22, 2007 (Invercargill) – Southland 7-26 Wellington (round four).

WALKING WOUNDED: Both teams had gains rather than losses on the injury front this week. Neemia Tialata has recovered sufficiently from knee problems to make the run-on XV even if two props are named on the bench. Rodney So'oialo moves to openside and Serge Lilo comes back onto the bench after a long layoff. Conrad Smith also takes his place on the bench, while Ma'a Nonu has been shifted to the right wing and Tane Tu'ipulotu introduced at second-five. Southland has made only one change, with Kendrick Lynn back following his sternum injury. Mark Wells drops to the bench, with Matt Saunders playing on the wing.

FORM: Perhaps Southland was the more impressive winner last weekend, as the Stags over-ran Bay of Plenty 45-11. Admittedly the Steamers had run out of steam but it was one of Southland's best attacking displays in years and the margin was by no means flattering. Wellington did enough to get home but the 20-point margin was no reflection on the run of play, as two converted tries in the last five minutes padded the stats. Wellington was dangerous on attack, scoring seven tries, but leaked too much on defence for Jamie Joseph to have been thrilled with the result.

WHO'S HOT: The Wellington forwards were beaten too often at the breakdown last week and the return of So'oialo is an obvious measure to count this. The tight five will need to dig in against a more than handy Southland set and running in open play can come later. The backline reshuffle has given the Lions a much better-looking lineup; Nonu made a couple of defensive miscues last week that cost tries but his power and line-breaking ability can be better used from the right wing, which has been a troublesome position this year. Hosea Gear, in devastating form, needs one more try to break Bernie Fraser's 27-year-old Wellington single-season record of 12. Jason Rutledge has been playing some tremendous rugby in the last month and has become one of the leaders in a good Southland pack, while the loose trio has become a real force. Blair Stewart had a fine day at Mt Maunganui, collecting 20 points in a 7-from-7 display, and Pehi Te Whare caused all sorts of alarms in the Bay defence with some strong, straight running.

WE THINK: Despite Southland's very good showing last week, we think the Lions will have too much class and our tip is for the home side to get it done comfortably – a margin of 10-15 points would be no surprise.


Wellington: 1 – Neemia Tialata, 2 – Dane Coles, 3 – John Schwalger, 4 – Ross Filipo, 5 – Jeremy Thrush, 6 – Chris Masoe, 7 – Rodney So'oialo, 8 – Thomas Waldrom, 9 – Alby Mathewson, 10 – Piri Weepu (captain), 11 – Hosea Gear, 12 – Tane Tu'ipulotu, 13 – Tamati Ellison, 14 – Ma'a Nonu, 15 – Cory Jane.

Reserves: 16 – Ged Robinson, 17 – Jacob Ellison, 18 – Tim Fairbrother, 19 – Api Naikatini, 20 – Serge Lilo, 21 – Daniel Kirkpatrick, 22 – Conrad Smith.

Southland: 1 – Jamie Mackintosh (captain), 2 – Jason Rutledge, 3 – Chris King, 4 – Josh Bekhuis, 5 – Hoani MacDonald, 6 – Dion Bates, 7 – Tim Boys, 8 – David Hall, 9 – Jimmy Cowan, 10 – Blair Stewart, 11 – Pehi Te Whare, 12 – Jason Kawau, 13 – Kendrick Lynn, 14 – Matt Saunders, 15 – Robbie Robinson.

Reserves: 16 – Matt Holloway, 17 –Fai Mika, 18 – Daniel Ramsay, 19 – John Hardie, 20 – Scott Cowan, 21 – Mark Wells, 22 – Willie Rickards.

REFEREE: Steve Walsh