Southland Stags injured but not beaten
Stags hooker Brayden Mitchell will start on the blindside flank against Wellington tomorrow as Southland's loose forward injury crisis deepens.
The gloomy sight of last season's player of the year John Hardie hobbling around at training at Les George Oval in a moonboot yesterday was made even worse when it became obvious that Tim Boys' shoulder injury would rule him out of the clash in Wellington.
With two of the best flankers that Southland has ever had injured and Elliot Dixon still waiting to get the all-clear, the Stags will have Alex Taylor - who wasn't in the squad at the start of the season - and front-rower Mitchell on the sides of the scrum along with makeshift No 8 Hoani Macdonald against a Wellington team with no shortage of hard-charging ball-runners.
Because of a hamstring injury, Scott Eade was being rested before Thursday's border skirmish against Otago, with Robbie Robinson preferred at first-five and Marty McKenzie starting at fullback. Fiji international Talemaitoga Tuapati will make his NPC debut for Southland after several seasons of impressive play at club level.
Coach David Henderson said the Stags had no option but to get on with things, despite the raft of injuries. "You have to adapt and, hopefully, we'll have Elliot back in a couple of weeks and Tim shouldn't be long-term either," he said.
The specialist, who had been treating the turf-toe injury that prematurely ended Hardie's Super Rugby season earlier this year, has been overseas, delaying any accurate prognosis.
The Lions will be fronting for the third time in 10 days tomorrow, following wins over Manawatu and Hawke's Bay, but Henderson is wary of a weary Wellington outfit.
"For us it's about focusing on getting our game together, which we didn't do last week," he said. "If we can get our game together we can be in the game. I'm not worrying too much about them."
Following the season-opening loss to Counties Manukau last weekend, there has been a decided edge at training this week, a tension not evident in recent seasons.
The Stags were eager to show they were better than the performance they put in their season opener against Counties Manukau last weekend, Henderson said.
"We have got a point to prove to ourselves, more than anything."
Motu Matu'u will start at hooker for Wellington, while Genesis Mamea will also get his first start of the NPC at No 8. Ardie Savea and Mark Reddish have returned to the starting XV while additions to the bench include Serge Lilo, Joe Latta and Ope Peleseuma, who will be on debut.
Wellington: Jason Woodward, Alapati Leiua, Charlie Ngatai, Shaun Treeby, Matt Proctor, Tim Bateman, Frae Wilson, Genesis Mamea, Ardie Savea, Lua Lokotui, Mark Reddish, Jeremy Thrush (c), Jeff Toomaga-Allen, Motu Matu'u, Arden David-Perrot. Reserves: Dane Coles, Solomona Sakalia, Whetu Henry, Serge Lilo, Kayne Hammington, Joe Latta, Ope Peleseuma.
Southland: Marty McKenzie, Kade Poki, Nathan Hohaia, Cardiff Vaega, Tim Cornforth, Robbie Robinson, Jimmy Cowan, Hoani Macdonald, Alex Taylor, Brayden Mitchell, Alex Ryan, Josh Bekhuis, Nic Barrett, Talemaitoga Tuapati, Jamie Mackintosh (c). Reserves: Jason Rutledge, Tukiterangi Raimona, Ben Nally, Michael Fatialofa, Nemia Kenatale, Matt Saunders, Mark Wells.
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