Lions have done everything right this season
October 25, 2013
Ardie Savea has been a key player for the Lions in 2013 © Getty Images
Will the ITM Cup Premiership final at Westpac Stadium in Wellington on Saturday mark the end of an era for Canterbury or the start of a new era for Wellington?
HEAD TO HEAD: Played: 169, Wellington 86, Canterbury 73
LAST TIME: Wellington 25-19 Canterbury, Round seven, 2013, at Westpac Stadium
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.
WALKING WOUNDED: Wellington's Charlie Ngatai returns at fullback after overcoming a hamstring injury, while Canterbury's Colin Slade has recovered from a knee injury to take his place among the reserves. Canterbury Hooker Marcel Cummings-Toone is over a heel injury and returns to the reserves, while Tom Taylor's availability resulted in a backline shake-up with Johnny McNicholl moving to left wing.
George Whitelock and Ardie Savea squared up to each other in September © Getty Images
FORM: Wellington have been the most consistent team in the competition, losing only their "dead-rubber" match against Hawke's Bay in the final round of the home-and-away season. And they showed that was no sign of their waning when they turned around, in difficult conditions, to thump Counties Manukau 41-10 in the semi-finals. Canterbury haven't been too far behind in consistency, and their effort has been all the more remarkable given it has been achieved with more than their usual crop of injuries. They lost to Wellington in their round-robin game, and also to Auckland, but, back to close to more regular strength, they accounted for Auckland 56-26 in the semi-finals.
WE THINK: Wellington have done everything right this season, and they have avoided the up-and-down nature of their rugby that has so frustrated past campaigns. That frustration is evident in the fact Wellington haven't won the ITM Cup since 2000, despite having featured in six finals. Will it be a case of seventh time lucky? They can't afford to rely on luck, knowing they must employ every quality that has worked so well for them during the season. Canterbury know how to win finals, and that's why they have been the champions for the last five years. It is a remarkable record, a record achieved by outstanding rugby. They will be certain they can do it again, but they face one of their most difficult tasks in this final against a team that has everything to play for. This might go right down to the wire, and that would suit the survival instinct of Canterbury, but the Lions are capable, if playing to their best, of securing the final well before the last 10 minutes.
WE PICK: Wellington by 8.
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)
Milton Keresoma is a rising star for Canterbury © Getty Images
Canterbury will be confident they can lift the cup for the sixth year in succession © Getty Images
Munster, No.8s, the imploding Australians, wonderful Glasgow and Lancaster's dilemma - it is Monday Maul time
As Ewen McKenzie exits stage left, the ARU remains under huge pressure, with CEO Bill Pulver feeling the brunt of Australian rugby's displeasure, Greg Growden writes
The latest Week in Pictures takes in the remarkable events in Brisbane and the first round of the European Rugby Champions Cup
Following Saturday's shock announcement, we look at the highs and the lows of Ewen McKenzie's brief stint as Wallabies coach.