There is not a weakness to be seen in the Wellington squad and they would love to send off coach Chris Boyd as a champion.
Once again the Lions were beaten at the final hurdle and the sight of George Whitelock planting a red and black on Westpac Stadium should be all the motivation the men from the capital need. TOBY ROBSON reports.
The Big Picture
Perennial bridesmaids Wellington fell short at yet another provincial final last year. Old rival Canterbury rubbed salt in the wounds by lifting the title at Westpac Stadium with captain George Whitelock driving a red and black flag in the centre of the field. That’ll provide plenty of motivation for the Lions who remain and they certainly have the talent to make the season finale again in 2014.
The Lions have Super Rugby grunt up front with a frontrow of Jeffery Toomaga- Allen, Motu Matu’u and Reggie Goodes with locks Jeremy Thrush and Ross Filipo in behind. But with openside Ardie Savea’s pace and the experience of Riki Flutey at first five- eighth, they will likely play an expansive brand of rugby. Matt Proctor, New Zealand sevens player Ambrose Curtis and returned Melbourne Rebel Jason Woodward provide the finish outside Highlanders midfielder Shaun Treeby.
Rising St ar
Christian Lloyd. Two years ago the big lock was named in the Lions squad for the 2011 competition, but didn’t feature. A
Vision Statement Our mantra is Wellington for Wellington. In my three years I have refrained from approaching anybody outside Wellington. Pride in the colours, pride in the jersey and where you come from. Wellington coach Chris Boyd
year later he played in the New Zealand Under 20s and at 1.98m and 115kg was being tipped for big things. Injury meant the Upper Hutt lock has barely been sighted since, but he’s fit and he’s firing this season in Wellington club rugby. The Lions have some decent locking stocks, but don’t be surprised if the 22 year old pushes his way in.
Riki Flutey, at 34- years- old, is still as young at heart as ever. With an audacious streak that rubs off on those around him and a fanatical approach to his fitness training, the former British and Irish Lions and England midfielder is motivated to end his career with a bang over the next couple of years. Flutey played 58 times for Wellington before embarking on a nine- year overseas career that took in 14 tests for England and a place in the British and Irish Lions in 2009.
First five- eighth Lima Sopoaga’s shift to Southland is the most significant of several high profile departures. Also gone are midfielders Tim Bateman ( Japan) and Alapati Leiua ( England), while senior prop John Schwalger’s lung problems mean he’ll miss most, if not all, of the season. The arrival of Flutey covers Sopoaga to some degree, but the midfield is a concern. Boyd may want to convert an outside back like Matt Proctor to play centre outside Treeby and Ope Paleseuma, who has returned after a year in Taranaki. Fullback Woodward is also back from a couple of productive years with the Melbourne Rebels.
HIGH TEMPO The speed of Ardie Savea will allow the Lions to play at real pace.