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Preview: Southland v Wellington

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Mitre10Cup.co.nz     06 Oct 2017     Getty Images

Southland v Wellington, Rugby Park, Saturday, 7.35pm. 
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TALE OF THE TAPE
The Southland side was not available at the time of publishing. Julian Savea is being rested after starting seven of eight games for the Lions, meaning Galu Taufale will become the fourth player to captain the side this season. With the luxury of top spot secured, Wellington have made eight changes. Malo Tuitama takes Savea's place on the right wing, while Losi Filipo takes the left wing spot ahead of Ben Lam. Billy Proctor gets his run-on debut, with Thomas Umanga-Jensen shifting to second five-eighths. Joe Apikotoa and James Tuiatua also make their first start in 2017.

Games: 96 (1896-2016)
Wins: Southland 24, Wellington 65, Draws 7
Last time: Wellington 60 Southland 21, Wellington 2016

STATS WATCH

The gulf between Wellington and Southland on attack could not be more contrasting. The men from the capital have scored 44 tries in 2017, 31 more than the Stags. Wellington have had 116 clean breaks, well clear of Southland's 83 this season. Wellington's tendency to go aerial can be seen in the statistics. The Lions have carved off a total of 4170 metres this season, with daylight second and Southland a distant third with 2902 metres. The Lions have beaten 250 defenders this year, 100 more than their hosts.
One area where Southland have the upper hand is at set piece time. The hosts have a 82.5 percent success rate compared to Wellington's 81.4 percent. At scrum time, Southland shade Wellington with a 94 percent success rate compared to Wellington's 90. The Stags have also shown a penchant for keeping the ball alive with 94 offloads - 10 more than the Lions. Southland are also looking to avoid a 0-win, 10-loss season that they last suffered in 1990.

PAYING THE PENALTY
Southland have conceded 51 penalties this season, well below Wellington's 68 infringements. The hosts will have to make sure the referee keeps his whistle in his pocket for as much of the game as possible, to keep out Wellington's lethal try-scoring options. The Lions have had just nine penalty attempts this year, slotting six of them. Another thing working in Southland's favour is their upper hand at set piece as mentioned before. They will have gained some confidence after their narrow 20-25 defeat to Manawatu where they picked up their first competition point of the season. Iconic Southland flanker Tim Boys has made 73 tackles so far in 2017 and will be looking to reach the century by the end of the season. However, beautiful conditions are expected for Saturday's clash in what may serve to expose the attacking differences between the two sides. Expect Jackson Garden-Bachop to feature heavily for the hosts with the ball in hand. The first five-eighths has the ninth-highest number of carries in 2017 (79), and has been credited with nine try assists. 

TEAMS
Southland (likely):1.Joseph Walsh, 2.Brayden Mitchell (captain), 3.Guy Millar, 4.Manaaki Selby-Ricket, 5.Michael McKee, 6.Phil Halder, 7.Tim Boys, 8.Elliot Dixon, 9.Jay Renton, 10.Scott Eade, 11.Aleki Morris, 12.Matthew Johnson, 13.Neria Fomai, 14.Michael Molloy, 15.Ryan Tongia.

Substitutes: 16.Thomas Flynn, 17.Shaun Stodart, 18.Morgan Mitchell, 19.Bill Fukofuka, 20.Tupou Sopoaga, 21.Liam Howley, 22.Greg Dyer, 23.James Schrader.

Wellington: 1.Tolu Fahamokioa, 2.Asafo Aumua, 3.Joe Apikotoa, 4.Chris Middleton, 5.Will Mangos, 6.Galu Taufale (captain), 7.James Tuiatua, 8.Teariki Ben-Nicholas, 9.Sheridan Rangihuna, 10.Jackson Garden-Bachop, 11.Losi Filipo, 12.Thomas Umaga-Jensen, 13.Billy Proctor, 14.Malo Tuitama, 15.Trent Renata.

Reserves: 16.Sitiveni Paongo, 17.Vince Sakaria, 18.Alex Fidow, 19.Alex Dalzell, 20.Du'Plessis Kirifi, 21.Kemara Hauiti-Parapara, 22.Wes Goosen, 23.Regan Verney.