Black jersey in Lions hooker Motu Matu'u's sights

Last updated 05:00 23/08/2014
TWIN TASKS: Hooker Motu Matu’u has two jobs on his plate today, first to inspire Wellington against Northland and second to stake a claim for the All Blacks.
Kevin Stent/Fairfax NZ
TWIN TASKS: Hooker Motu Matu’u has two jobs on his plate today, first to inspire Wellington against Northland and second to stake a claim for the All Blacks.

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Motu Matu'u understands the moment.

For New Zealand's hookers, the national provincial championship has become something akin to rugby's version of an extended audition for the All Blacks.

The search is on to find the man, or men, to back up Dane Coles and Keven Mealamu, if the latter's ageing body makes it, at the Rugby World Cup.

And while Bay of Plenty's Nathan Harris has pole position, Matu'u knows he's also in the mix after being one of six extra players brought into the All Blacks environment for a two-day training camp before the Rugby Championship.

Matu'u's frustration is that he popped the AC joint in his shoulder playing club rugby in Wellington just days before that camp and has been cooling his heels since.

''Running the water for the boys was just doing my head in last week, because I wanted to be out there so bad,'' the 27-year-old said after sitting out the Lions first-up loss to Waikato.

''It's fair to say I'm excited about getting back out there.''

The Oriental-Rongotai rake will pull on the No 2 jersey against Northland in Whangarei today, where he will try to put in practice some of the things he learned during his short but productive introduction to the national team's setup.

''It was a pretty exciting environment to be a part of. It was only a two-day camp, but I learned a lot more than I thought I could in such a short time,'' he said.

''Coming back, it really fuelled a lot of hunger to put the work in and get back on the right track.''

He's been on the All Blacks radar before, but not quite nailed his opportunity with some errant lineout throwing and a lack of game time behind Coles being his Achilles heel during Super Rugby.

''They just want me to play, really, get some consistency under my belt and focus on my set piece. That's the long term goal, but for now I'm focused on just getting on track with the Lions.''

His provincial coach, Chris Boyd, is looking to his robust No 2 to add some sting to a campaign that needs to make a statement of sorts against Northland.

Wellington's young squad needs competition points, but also a little self belief that they are among the heavy hitters in the Premiership.

''That loss on the weekend the boys took heaps out of it,'' Matu'u said. ''Not just on the field but off it, too. It's just things like doing that extra homework on the opposition.

''They have to make a quick adjustment. This is the next step and they found that out against Waikato. The intensity was there, but it wasn't enough.''

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Boyd hopes some controlled aggression and leadership up front from Matu'u and prop Reggie Goodes will lay a solid platform for new first five-eighth James So'oialo against a Northland team whose helter-skelter play makes them a tricky opponent.

The Taniwha were unlucky to blow their opening match 23-28 to Manawatu, but showed enough in attack to suggest they will test lazy defences.

So'oialo's kicking game will need to be sound, with Northland's back three of fullback Mathew Wright and Fijian wings Jone Macilai-Tori and Filipo Nakosi showing plenty of pace and flair last week.

And up front hooker Matt Moulds and loose forwards Jack Ram, Dan Pryor and captain Cam Eyre provide plenty of mobility.

Wellington beat Northland 30-10 in Whangarei last year and have not lost to the Taniwha since 2000.

AT A GLANCE

Wellington v Northland

Venue: Toll Stadium, Whangarei

Sky Sport 1, 2.35pm, today

Referee: Brendon Pickerill

Teams

Wellington: Jason Woodward, Ambrose Curtis, Ope Peleseuma, Shaun Treeby, Tau Mamea, James So'oialo, Frae Wilson, Brad Shields (c), Adam Hill, Pau Halafihi, Vaea Fifita, Kaipati Gaualofa, Eric Sione, Motu Matu'u, Reggie Goodes. Reserves: Tolu Fahamokioa, Taniela Koroi, James Wall, Henry Stowers, Sheridan Rangihuna, Fa'atonu Fili, Chase Tiatia.

Northland: Mathew Wright, Filipo Nakosi, Winston Stanley, Troy Gilbert, Jone Macilai, Dan Hawkins, Tane Takulua, Cam Eyre (c), Jack Ram, Dan Pryor, Tom Murday, Shane Neville, Matt Talaese, Matt Moulds, Namatahi Waa. Reserves: Ross Wright, Will Griff-John, Michael Stolberg, Kara Pryor, Kurt Davies, Latuime Fosita, Brook Gilmore.

- The Dominion Post

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