Lions out to bury final demons
November 5, 2009
Wellington don't want to be bridesmaids as they were in 2008 © Getty Images
Wellington will be looking to bury a few ghosts when they travel to Christchurch for their Air New Zealand Cup final with Canterbury this weekend after losing the last three deciders.
Since the competition was revamped in 2006, the Lions have gone down to Waikato (37-31), Auckland (23-14) and Canterbury (7-6). Wellington are in good form, winning their last six matches, including a hard-fought semi-final win against Southland. Piri Weepu, ruled out of the All Blacks' tour by persistent injuries, will start in the Lions' fly-half jersey alongside exciting scrum-half Alby Mathewson.
Coach Jamie Joseph has retained the team that came from behind to win 34-21 last weekend, meaning rising stars such as midfield backs Shaun Treeby and Alapati Leuia and forwards Victor Vito and Daniel Ramsay will get their first taste of finals rugby.
Wing Hosea Gear, who was on the wrong end of the scoreline last year and in 2007 after missing the 2006 final through injury, admitted he was getting tired of being a runner-up. But with only five of last year's starting line-up in the starting XV for this weekend's rematch with Canterbury, Gear is optimistic the outcome will be different this time round - especially as both teams are without their All Blacks stars and younger squad members will come into play.
"They bring a lot of enthusiasm which is probably what we've been missing in the past," Gear said. "Also having the All Blacks away this year we've had to do without them for the semis and final and we've had to build a bit of momentum with the team we've got."
Canterbury coach Rob Penney has also stuck with the same side that accounted for Hawke's Bay 20-3 in their semi-final. It will be centre Casey Laulala's last game before heading to the Cardiff Blues and the Cantabs will be confident of send him off in style on home soil.
Front-runners for the majority of the season, they are without a sizeable All Black contingent but still boast a competitive side. Stephen Brett starts at fly-half after trading the position with Dan Carter for some of the domestic campaign. Flanker George Whitelock skippers the side and is joined in the pack by his second-row brother, Sam.
"The boys are really excited about the challenge ahead. It will be difficult because Wellington are a very good side. But we are determined to give it everything," Penney said.
Canterbury: Colin Slade; Sean Maitland, Casey Laulala, Tim Bateman, Tu Umaga-Marshall; Stephen Brett, Tyson Keats; Andrew Olorenshaw, Ti'i Paulo, Peter Borlase, Sam Whitelock, Isaac Ross, Michael Paterson, George Whitelock (capt), Nasi Manu
Replacements: Steve Fualau, Rodney Ah You, Ash Parker, Matt Todd, Willi Heinz, Ryan Crotty, James Paterson
Wellington: Apoua Stewart; David Smith, Alapati Leuia, Shaun Treeby, Hosea Gear; Piri Weepu, Alby Mathewson; John Schwalger, Ged Robinson, Anthony Perenise, Jacob Ellison (capt), Daniel Ramsay, Victor Vito, Serge Lilo, Mathew Luamanu
Replacements: Dane Coles, Arden David-Perrot, Mark Reddish, Scott Fuglistaller, Fa'atonu Fili, Robert Fruean, Daniel Kirkpatrick
John Taylor argues the world's best XVs players must be given a chance to play in the Olympics to increase the appeal of the game
The All Blacks' form is not a peaking issue, but Hansen must threaten to wield his axe, to demand improvement, Craig Dowd writes
"It has been the World Cup that smashed down the gender barriers of the sport." Tom Hamilton looks back at a remarkable tournament
A selection of the best pictures from England's historic World Cup triumph in Paris as they beat Canada 21-9