Jason O’Halloran looks to add to Lions’ misery
Manawatu coach Jason O'Halloran's amicable nature won't extend to feeling any pity for the struggling Wellington Lions at Westpac Stadium tonight.
O'Halloran, who played 95 times for Wellington during his distinguished career, but would like nothing more than to add a third straight loss to the Lions' National Provincial Championship season.
''No, not a chance, we need to win, mate,'' he said when asked if he felt some sympathy for his former team.
''We've copped a few towellings from them over the years and got one last year when we were pretty competitive for about 65 minutes but ended up losing 42-15. We have some aspirations on our side of the draw too and to achieve them we want to win on Friday.''
O'Halloran expected a far better Wellington side to show up in round three than the one which lost to Waikato then capitulated in alarming fashion against Northland in Whangarei.
''It's a different Wellington side to the one that played on the weekend,'' O'Halloran said.
''We are pretty mindful that those two All Blacks [Jeremy Thrush and TJ Perenara] coming back along with Mark Reddish will give them a bit of steel. We'll have to be on our best form to be competitive.
''I don't think you can underestimate how positive it will be to have those guys back. That will alleviate a bit of the anxiety and they'll grow from that.''
O'Halloran's message to his troops before kick off might be a little less complementary toward the home side.
The Turbos will be looking to capitalise on Wellington's self-doubt, have openside Callum Gibbins target young first five-eighth Chase Tiatia, and try to seize a rare opportunity to get one over on their provincial neighbours.
A second loss to a Championship team would be humiliating for the Lions, a side which will include eight regular Super Rugby starters in the run on team and which was a Premiership finalist last season.
The Turbos have every right to feel confident of an upset just a month after pipping a similar Wellington line up 29-28 in a pre-season match at the Hutt Recreation Ground.
On that occasion, their outside backs, wing Newton Tudreu, fullback Nehe Milner-Skudder and centre Jason Emery, caused all sorts of problems for the Lions.
In hindsight it highlighted a major weakness for Wellington, whose backs have struggled badly during their opening two matches.
Tudreu in particular is a player with the size, strength and pace to cause havoc if he gets a bit of space, while prop Chris Eves can be a damaging ball runner in close.
Wellington coach Chris Boyd will be apprehensive after making further changes in a bid to fix his faltering backline.
He will have spent the week bolstering the confidence of teenage pivot Tiatia, who makes his starting debut, and leaning on his returning pros to pick up a side down on confidence.
But Boyd is adamant there has not been any panic among a squad now under pressure to deliver a performance.
The Turbos have issues of their own after a flat 35-7 loss to Auckland, and first five-eighth Otere Black, like Tiatia, is starting at this level for the first time.
If Perenara, Thrush, Reddish, Brad Shields and Jason Woodward can all find form, then Wellington might finally get on the board for 2014.
If they don't, and Manawatu regain the Coronation Cup they won in 2010 and 2011, then the Lions' season will sink into a sizeable hole.
AT A GLANCE
Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
TV: Sky Sport 1, 7.35pm, tonight
Referee: Richard Kelly
TAB odds: Wellington $1.20, Manawatu $4.20
Wellington: Jason Woodward, Ambrose Curtis, Ope Peleseuma, Shaun Treeby, Andrew Wells, Chase Tiatia, TJ Perenara, Brad Shields (c), Adam Hill, Mark Reddish, Christian Lloyd, Jeremy Thrush, Taniela Koroi, Motu Matu'u, Tolu Fahamokioa. Reserves: James O'Reilly, Eric Sione, Vaea Fifita, Henry Stowers, Sheridan Rangihuna, Tu Umaga-Marshall, Tau Mamea.
Manawatu: Nehe Milner-Skudder, Newton Tudreu, Jason Emery, Hamish Northcott, Nathan Tudreu, Otere Black, Kayne Hammington, James Oliver, Callum Gibbins (c), Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, Nick Crosswell, Keepa Mewett, Ma'afu Fia, Rob Foreman, Chris Eves. Reserves: Nick Grogan, Hubert Buydens, Fraser Stone, Antonio Kiri Kiri, Jamie Booth, Jade Te Rure, Jaxon Tagavaitau.
The Dominion Post