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Air NZ Cup Preview: Wellington v Bay of Plenty

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Sportal.co.nz     29 Aug 2008     Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: Westpac Stadium, Wellington, Saturday August 30, 14.35 NZT.

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 30 – Wellington 26, Bay of Plenty 2, drawn 2.

LAST TIME: September 28, 2007 (Rotorua) – Bay of Plenty 13-16 Wellington.

WALKING WOUNDED: They continue to fall for Wellington, who can add Jeremy Thrush (concussion against Southland), Chris Masoe (neck at training) and Cory Jane (flu) to a long list of banged-up players, but only Thrush hasn't made into the team for this weekend. All their fitness worries haven't stopped the Lions yet, though. Bay of Plenty is having an injury-free run with Kevin Schuler not having to scour the squad or province for replacements.

FORM: Both teams are four from four, so you know they're playing pretty well. What's more, both are showing the same strengths – scoring tries, making linebreaks, defending well, closing games out with strong second-half efforts, kicking for position and not making mental errors. Given that the coaches were All Black teammates, it's perhaps not surprising that they share the same philosophies but both would be pleased with their charges' form.

WHO'S HOT: Plenty of players in both teams qualify on this score. The Wellington tight five will lose something with Thrush out, as he has been in top form so far and leading a good pack in all areas. The loose trio of Victor Vito, Serge Lilo and Thomas Waldrom has combined nicely as a unit and combinations are starting to gel in the backline as well, particularly between the various midfielders. Piri Weepu, Hosea Gear and Alby Mathewson have all been travelling nicely. The Steamers also have the same sort of trump cards – a solid tight five with James McGougan leading by a short head over the rest, a very good loose trio of Solomon King, Tanerau Latimer and Colin Bourke, two classy inside backs in Jamie Nutbrown and Mike Delany who are calling the shots and pace out wide.

WE THINK: This will be worth watching and, one suspects, a hard-core match for the whole 80 minutes. While the teams are very even, we can't go past Wellington – they just have that little bit more X-factor. We'll take the Lions by a few points, but we confidently expect the fans to get their money's worth from both teams.

TEAMS:

Wellington: 1 – John Schwalger, 2 – Ged Robinson, 3 – Tim Fairbrother, 4 – Ross Filipo, 5 – Api Naikatini, 6 – Victor Vito, 7 – Serge Lilo, 8 – Thomas Waldrom, 9 – Alby Mathewson, 10 – Piri Weepu (captain), 11 – Hosea Gear, 12 – Tane Tu'ipulotu, 13 – Tamati Ellison, 14 – Tu Umaga-Marshall, 15 – Cory Jane.

Reserves: 16 – Eugene Smith, 17 – Neemia Tialata, 18 – Scott Fuglistaller, 19 – Chris Masoe, 20 – Kaipati Gaualofa, 21 – Michael Hobbs, 22 – Buxton Popoali'i.

Bay of Plenty: 1 – Joe Savage, 2 – John Pareanga, 3 – James McGougan, 4 – Culum Retalick, 5 – John Moore, 6 – Solomon King, 7 – Tanerau Latimer (captain), 8 – Colin Bourke, 9 – Jamie Nutbrown, 10 – Mike Delany, 11 – Toby Arnold, 12 – Nigel Hunt, 13 – Cory Aporo, 14 – Lance MacDonald, 15 – Zar Lawrence.

Reserves: 16 – Dean Elmiger, 17 – Arden David-Perrot, 18 – Aidan Kuka, 19 – Luke Braid, 20 – Kelly Haimona, 21 – Paula Asaeli, 22 – Teu Nafe.

REFEREE: Vinny Munro