Lions confront play-off failures head-on
October 25, 2013
Charlie Ngatai is back in the No.15 jumper for Wellington © Getty Images
Wellington's disastrous record in the National Provincial Championship play-offs is front and centre of their thoughts as the Lions seek to atone for 12 years of heartbreak in the ITM Cup Premiership final against Canterbury at Westpac Stadium on Saturday. Rather than hide from a record that has seen Wellington fail to win the title since 2000, despite reaching the play-offs eight times, Lions coach Chris Boyd has asked his players to address those failures and to be angered by them.
"At some point in time you've got to be grumpy about finishing second," Boyd said. "We certainly haven't hid away from the fact that we've failed too often. You can't hide away from the reality of history ... you've got to embrace that."
Canterbury travel to Wellington with a contrasting legacy since losing the final to Wellington in 2000, when All Blacks great Jonah Lomu scored two tries and Norm Hewitt famously played on with a broken arm. They have since won seven finals without defeat, including three over Wellington, and their current streak of five successive titles is an NPC record.
Wellington centre Tim Bateman was part of two of those Canterbury triumphs, in 2008 and 2009, and he says the Lions can turn the tide after qualifying first in the regular season. "There's a lot of belief that we can win it this year and that we can start something new," Bateman said. "We want Wellington to be the team the people look at as the benchmark of provincial rugby in New Zealand. We feel we've got everything in place to do that."
Loose forwards Victor Vito, Ardie Savea and Brad Shields are at the heart of a physical Wellington style that has carried them to 10 wins from 11 games, including the 41-10 defeat of Counties Manukau in the semi-finals. Canterbury were just as impressive in a 56-26 home thumping of Auckland, playing with the width and continuity that has been a hallmark of their last five campaigns.
Both teams have made one change from the semi-finals, both at fullback.
All Blacks back Tom Taylor will wear No.15 for Canterbury while Wellington's Charlie Ngatai has overcome a hamstring injury and returns in place of Joe Hill, with Matt Proctor shifting from fullback to wing.
Wellington: Charlie Ngatai; Matt Proctor, Tim Bateman, Shaun Treeby, Alapati Leiua; Lima Sopoaga, Frae Wilson; Victor Vito (captain), Ardie Savea, Brad Shields; Api Naikatini, Mark Reddish; Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Motu Matu'u, John Schwalger. Replacements: Reggie Goodes, Eric Sione, Kaipati Gaualofa, Faifili Levave, Adam Hill, Tomasi Palu, Joe Hill.
Canterbury: Tom Taylor; Patrick Osborne, Adam Whitelock, Ryan Crotty, Johnny McNicholl; Tyler Bleyendaal, Andy Ellis; Nasi Manu, George Whitelock (captain), Luke Whitelock; Luke Katene, Joel Everson; Nepo Laulala, Ben Funnell, Joe Moody. Replacements: Marcel Cummings-Toone, Paea Fa'anunu, Dominic Bird, Jordan Taufua, Willi Heinz, Rob Thompson, Colin Slade.
Follow live text commentary of the ITM Cup Premiership final between Wellington Lions and Canterbury on Saturday, October 26 from 7pm (NZDT), 5pm (AEDT) and 6am (GMT)
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