VENUE & TIME: FMG Stadium, Palmerston North, Friday August 24 @ 1805
HEAD TO HEAD: Played 80; Manawatu 17, Wellington 57, drawn 6.
LAST TIME: August 13, 2010 (Wellington) – Wellington 25-31 Manawatu.
WALKING WOUNDED: Manawatu have three long-term injury worries – Grant Polson, Doug Tietjens and Isaac Thompson – while the two Aarons, Smith and Cruden, are involved with the All Blacks. As a result there will be a new look to the inside backs, but the core members of recent teams are still there. Manawatu named its team Wednesday night without confirming the three back reserves. Wellington took a while to trim down an extended squad and they, too, have three long-term casualties in TJ Perenara, Brad Shields and Lima Sopoaga. The Lions, like Manawatu, still have a spine of experienced and capable players and Chris Boyd named what most would consider to be his best available team for this match.
Manawatu: Manawatu’s pre-season results were not the best, as they lost to both Wellington and Hawke’s Bay. Each of their opponents piled on more than 30 points, although how much one reads into that is unclear as the Turbos have normally been a decent enough defensive unit in the last couple of seasons.
Wellington: Wellington beat Manawatu in its first pre-season match and lost to a strong Canterbury side in its most recent outing. These matches were used as trials, since it was taking the coaching staff a while to pare down the squad, but some of the form shown in the hit-outs was decent and indicated there was some good material to work with.
WHO’S HOT: Manawatu will need its forward pack to continue the form showed over the past couple of seasons, especially with its two key playmakers now in the All Blacks. There’s plenty of effort to be had from skipper Nick Crosswell, a tough bloke who always leads from the front, and lock Michael Fitzgerald, whose Super rugby season might have surprised a few who hadn’t been keeping an eye on the Turbos. They, and the rest of their forward colleagues, have proved a handful for every team recently. Veteran midfielder Frank Bryant will be an important man, as he uses his experience to guide a necessarily new halfback pair through tough times and sets up his speedy and dangerous outsides. His rugged tackling will also be important, and should be a defensive feature the backline can key off.
The changing of the Wellington guard sees half a dozen players in line to make their provincial debut, although Jeffrey Toomaga-Allen is hardly a newbie. Already a veteran of a full Super rugby season, he has the chance to continue his impressive start as he dons the Lions jersey for the first time. Tim Bateman, another playing his first match for the union, has plenty of experience but he has normally featured in midfield, so it will be interesting to see how he adapts to first-five. A talented, slick ball-player, he could be just the man to get the line moving freely. Charlie Ngatai will be hoping for an injury-free year, as his promising beginning in first-class rugby has been slowed up by a couple of nasty accidents. He’s been around for a while now, but needs to move out of the ‘promising’ category sooner rather than later.
WE THINK: Manawatu has done Wellington a couple of times in recent seasons, including a well-taken win last year. But that was with Cruden and Smith, who bossed that game and closed it out nicely. For the Turbos to win this time – and always remember they’re very hard to beat at home – you would expect the forwards may have to carry the load against a decent Wellington pack. We think it may be too tough, although there won’t be much in it – maybe five points for the visitors.
Manawatu: 1. Eric Fry, 2. Rob Foreman, 3. Ma’afu Fia, 4. Fraser Stone, 5. Michael Fitzgerald, 6. Nick Crosswell (capt), 7. Callum Gibbins, 8. Hamish Gosling, 9. Karl Bryson, 10. Nathan George, 11. Junior Tomasi Cama, 12. Frank Bryant, 13. Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 14. Craig Clare, 15. Nehe Milner-Skudder.
Reserves: 16. Bryn Templeman, 17. David Te Moana, 18. Reece Robinson, 19. James Oliver, 20. TBC, 21. TBC, 22. TBC.
Wellington: 1. Reg Goodes, 2. Dane Coles, 3. Jeffrey Toomaga-Allen, 4. Jeremy Thrush (capt), 5. Ross Filipo, 6. Mark Reddish, 7. Scott Fuglistaller, 8. Ardie Savea, 9. Frae Wilson, 10. Tim Bateman, 11. Matt Proctor, 12. Shaun Treeby, 13. Charlie Ngatai, 14. Alipate Leiua, 15. Jason Woodward.
Reserves: 16. Motu Matu’u, 17. Arden David-Perrot, 18. Whetu Henry, 19. Lua Lokotui, 20. Kayne Hammington, 21. Genesis Mamea, 22. TBA.