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Premiership semifinal preview: Auckland v Wellington

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Friday, October 19, 2018    Campbell Burnes    Getty Images

Match details: Saturday October 20, 5.05pm at Eden Park, Auckland
Referee: Brendon Pickerill (North Harbour)
Played: 177 (1883-2014)
Wins: Auckland 95, Wellington 79, Drawn 3
Last match: Auckland 29 Wellington 24 (October 4, 2018)

TALE OF THE TAPE

Auckland is top qualifier for a reason, and the blue and whites showed their quality, and readiness for finals footy, with a resounding 45-29 win at Eden Park over North Harbour last Sunday.

The forwards, through men like Robbie Abel and Dalton Papalii, laid a sound platform and TJ Faiane and Jordan Trainor et al reaped the rewards.

Wellington has merited its semifinals qualification, heading Taranaki 34-10 last weekend, but let slip the earlier match against Auckland on October 4. The Lions dominated the first spell but could not hold Auckland’s late rails run, falling 29-24.

The visitors’ lineout is, statistically, the best in the Mitre 10 Cup, and it looks even stronger now that Wellington player of the year James Blackwell has shifted into the No 6 jersey to allow Sam Lousi to be reintroduced to the second row.

Auckland has won six of the last seven encounters between the two provinces, has the Fred Lucas Memorial Cup in its possession and a whole lot of momentum. The Lions will play their run and gun style, and that will work if Auckland’s defence, such a strength all season, is not on the job.

QUICK TAP: MITRE 10 CUP WEEK NINE REVIEW

JUICY MATCH-UP

In the No 13 jerseys, we have one of the big improvers, Auckland’s Tumua Manu, against the Lions skipper Matt Proctor, newly named in the All Blacks, thus soon to fulfil the prophecy of former Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett.

The 29-year-olf Proctor has racked up more than 50 caps for Wellington, and is joined in the midfield by little brother Billy.

Manu, 25, appeared four times on the wing for Auckland in 2017, but has in 2018 formed a solid, if unheralded, midfield combination with his captain TJ Faiane. Both he and Faiane have scored six tries.

Expect no quarter asked or given.

THE INSIDE WORD

Auckland head coach Alama Ieremia has pulled most of the right strings this season, and now he gets to plot the demise of his old province again, along with his forwards coach Filo Tiatia, another Wellington man from his playing days.

“Wellington have played finals rugby, Auckland hasn’t played finals rugby for a while. They know how to play in these games, so we have to be absolutely prepared for it. They’ve come up into the Premiership and are now in the finals, so you have to give that a lot of respect,” says Ieremia.

THE SCOOP

Trent Renata will come off the Lions bench to win his 100th provincial cap.

This will be his 15th outing for Wellington, with his tally reading 66 for Waikato, nine for Otago and 10 for Tasman. Renata is a versatile footballer and can fill in at 10, 15 or 12.

Dane Coles, wearing jersey No 16, will run on for his 68th Wellington game. Get through that and he will join his All Blacks teammates in Japan.

The Lions have two quality loose forwards on the bench in Galu Taufale and Du Plessis Kirifi, a clear indication they feel the breakdown will be a torrid affair.

Auckland again presents a settled backline, but there is some disruption in the pack with the elevation of Dalton Papalii to the All Blacks, while Waimana Riedlinger-Kapa, who played very well last weekend, has hurt his wrist. No worries, the admirable Evan Olmstead slots into the No 6 jersey, Adrian Choat wins a second start after an impressive debut against Southland and Taleni Seu returns via the bench from several months on the sidelines.

Salesi Rayasi faces down, on the wing, former Auckland flier Ben Lam. Watch closely for fireworks.

TEAMS
Auckland:
Jordan Trainor, Melani Nanai, Tumua Manu, TJ Faiane (c), Salesi Rayasi, Harry Plummer, Jonathan Ruru, Akira Ioane, Adrian Choat, Evan Olmstead, Michael Fatialofa, Fa’atiga Lemalu, Marcel Renata, Robbie Abel, Sam Prattley
Reserves: Mike Sosene, Jarred Adams, Marco Fepulea’i, Taleni Seu, Hoskins Sotutu, Desma Liaina, Jacob Umaga, Caleb Clarke

Wellington: Wes Goosen, Ben Lam, Matt Proctor (c), Billy Proctor, Malo Tuitama, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Kemara Hauiti-Parapara, Teariki Ben-Nicholas, Mateaki Kafatolu, James Blackwell, Isaia Walker-Leawere, Sam Lousi, Jeff Toomaga-Allen, Asafo Aumua, Sitiveni Paongo
Reserves: Dane Coles, Tolu Fahamokoia, Joel Hintz, Galu Taufale, Du Plessis Kirifi, Carlos Price, Losi Filipo, Trent Renata