Wellington Lions need big improvement
Reinforcements are coming, but probably not where the Wellington Lions need them most in the wake of their season opening loss to Waikato.
Coach Chris Boyd expects to welcome back front rowers Motu Matu'u (shoulder) and Reggie Goodes (concussion) as well as rugged lock Kaipati Gaualofa (knee) for their next match against Northland in Whangarei on Saturday.
There's no doubt the trio would add some grunt and experience to a Lions side that featured three players on debut in their starting tight five during their 37-25 loss to Waikato at Westpac Stadium.
Boyd has made it clear his side can ill-afford to return from the far north without any competition points in the bank after failing to open their account in week one.
"To come away with no points and for them [Waikato] to come away with five, well you can't get any worse than that from an outcome point of view and in what is going to be a very tight race to come away with no points is a bitter loss really," Boyd said after his side conceded six tries to a Waikato side not expected to be among the Premiership front runners this season.
Wellington's young pack mostly matched Waikato with solid debuts from 19-year-old hooker Leni Apisai and lock Christian Lloyd, and an encouraging effort from loose head prop Tolu Fahamokioa, up against Chiefs giant Ben Tameifuna, in his second match for the province.
Boyd knows a mountain of possession and hard work up front will count for little if his backline cannot do a better job in defence and attack.
"We gave them too many easy points really. That period of time what did we concede, 17 points just before halftime with a couple of soft [tries] in there, that killed us," he said.
"She's a steep learning curve and I think some of the guys out there battled with the intensity and pace of the game. It's just something they'll grow to get used to, hopefully.
"Four of their tries came from straight out one-on-one missed tackles, so they weren't systems errors, but young guys just have to get used to the fact they can't drop off those tackles.
"We had phases where we had the ball for long periods of time, but actually didn't really construct enough. We had our turn with the ball but didn't use it as well as we could have."
While the backline did manage a first half try to Shaun Treeby, the attack was too lateral as first five-eighth Fa'atonu Fili whipped skip passes across the Waikato defence. There were also worrying holes in a defence that got too narrow and simply fell off tackles on others.
Waikato wing Joe Webber waltzed through for two tries out wide with alarming ease, second five-eighth Anton Lienert-Brown stormed through some weak defence on a 70-metre run and centre Jordan Payne sliced through from a scrum.
The dropping of two kick offs didn't help the cause, but generally Wellington's back division needs to improve two-fold against Northland.
To be fair, Fili was a late call up for injured pivot Riki Flutey, and has had little time to get to know his teammates or the Lions' patterns.
Another week will likely bring improvement in a backline that's also lost influential centre-cum-outside-back Matt Proctor to an abdominal injury.
Wellington captain and No 8 Brad Shields was confident of a more complete showing against a Northland side that lost 28-23 yesterday to Manawatu.
"Most of the new guys played pretty well and there were some real positives. We had the ball most of that second half and most of that first half, but just little individual mistakes like not holding the ball, missing the tackle, that let us down.
"It's a bit of patience. We have to hold the ball to win the game . . . you can have all the ball you like but if you aren't scoring points then you won't win the game."
The Dominion Post