Enough is enough - after 12 years of near misses and regret the new breed of Wellington Lions have been urged to "break the cycle" ahead of tonight's national provincial final against Canterbury.
Dompost.co.nz will have live-blogging coverage of the final from 7:30pm.
When Wellington coach Chris Boyd took over the top job last season he told his assistant, Richard Watt, he wanted to "change the DNA" in the province's rugby ranks.
There was too much emphasis on flashy back play and not enough belief in the ability of the tight forwards. And so began a project that has developed an imposing young forward pack, one that will attempt to lay the platform for victory at Westpac Stadium tonight.
"It's been building for a couple of years with the style of play Boydy wanted to play," Watt said yesterday.
"There was no grey area there.
"He just said when it was time for the forwards to go forward he wanted them to go forward. He said if we could deliver that within the team structure we'd succeed.
"Working with Boydy and getting that directive for the pack has really helped with the clarity of the forwards themselves. They know now when it's the right time to roll their sleeves up and get to work."
And that is just what Wellington have done this season, with prop Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, veteran John Schwalger and bruising hooker Motu Matu'u the lead protagonists.
It sounds simple but the Lions' past is littered with sides that have tried and failed to truly dominate up front, too reliant on individual brilliance out wide.
The current crop are no one-trick ponies. They have been at the breakdown where openside Ardie Savea has thrived and possess a backline that moves the ball to space rather than try to create it through physicality.
"Get our big bullies going forward, the likes of Brad [Shields] and Victor [Vito] and Jeff [Toomaga-Allen]," Wellington first five-eighth Lima Sopoaga said of the key to the final.
"Get them all going and that makes our job a whole lot easier, and hopefully we can unleash some devastating backs."
It is not the only reason Sopoaga will be hoping his pack get plenty of ball. Canterbury play width and territory but when they get into the Lions' 22, they are sure to send big men like No 8 Nasi Manu and blindside Luke Whitelock down the channel between numbers 9 and 10.
Boyd's tactical nous will need to be at its best and he believes the final will be won by the defence.
It is Canterbury's width game, versus Wellington's crunching style and ability to change the pace of the game. If the wind remains, tactical kicking could also be crucial.
Canterbury first five-eighth Tyler Bleyendaal has a booming punt, and fullback Tom Taylor and halfback Andy Ellis have educated boots.
Sopoaga and centre Tim Bateman are more subtle options, with fullback Charlie Ngatai the distance man in the home side.
The Lions have a steadfast belief they will prevail but a blowout seems unlikely.
The 2008 side came closest to ending the capital's heartbreak, losing a 7-6 arm-wrestle to Canterbury on a wet Wellington night.
The sight of halfback Piri Weepu slumped on the turf in tears was an enduring image, one all too familiar to the stadium faithful.
Most of the current side were at college back then and though they don't have any personal finals baggage, they are determined to change the perception of being a perennial bridesmaid. "It's a determination to have someone stop it," Sopoaga said. "Someone's got to. At some point someone has to stop the bleeding. Canterbury are quality, but we'll throw everything into it.
"We're in front of our family, our friends, our fans - I don't see why not."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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