So'oialo the captain but who'll be coach?

COACH: Jamie Joseph announced his NPC squad last night but the question on everyone's lips is will he be around to coach it.
COACH: Jamie Joseph announced his NPC squad last night but the question on everyone's lips is will he be around to coach it.

Wellington – we have a rugby team but do we have a coach?

Jamie Joseph announced his NPC squad last night but the question on everyone's lips is will he be around to coach it.

Joseph can move up the world of coaching to Super 15 franchise Highlanders but the New Zealand Rugby Union is very clear on these matters – one (NPC) or the other (Super 15) – but not both.

Joseph broke his silence on the matter, saying uplifting a young family (four children) to Dunedin was complicating a career move.

"The rugby decision is quite straightforward but the family decision is a difficult one so I'm just working through things," Joseph said.

Wellington play their final pre-season match against Canterbury in Christchurch on Friday and open their ITM Cup campaign against Tasman at Westpac Stadium on August 1.

Will he still be in charge?

"I haven't set myself a deadline, like anything major you need to take time."

Joseph is conscious the sooner the situation is cleared up the better for a Wellington Lions team that will be captained this season by Rodney So'oialo.

"I don't think it is a distraction for the team," Joseph said.

"If it goes on for much longer, it may do but the players know me, I've been involved with the team for some years now."

Assuming Joseph heads south, his assistant Andre Bell is tipped to take over and together they have come up with a squad that should give the ITM Cup a shake.

It contains four new caps – Petone first-five Hayden Cripps, IRB World Under-20 player of the year Julian Savea, who is a winger for Oriental Rongotai, Old Boys University's teenage first-five Lima Sopoaga and former Manawatu prop Dave Te Moana.

You get the impression only Savea has a chance to make the starting XV against Tasman and even that is a stretch with Hosea Gear a certainty on one wing and Buxton Popoalii and Alapati Leiua with claims on the other.

"Buxton's had two seasons with us, Alapati played on the outside for us last year so there is plenty of competition," Joseph said.

The coach likes the experience in his pack but is worried about halfback when both Piri Weepu and Alby Mathewson are on All Black duty. Former Bay of Plenty representative Ruki Tipuna could be the starting No 9 for the first two rounds of the ITM Cup.

"We're waiting for a halfback to stick his hand up at club level so we've not named another one yet," Joseph said.

Michael Hobbs and Jacob Ellison have been included in the 34-man squad despite persistent back injuries. Regardless of whether Joseph goes south or not, his passion and positive vibe about the Wellington Lions class of 2010 is apparent.

"The experience we have up front is enormous given we have two All Black props [Neemia Tialata and John Schwalger] and with an All Black No 8 [So'oialo] leading us we've got a helluva lot of experience in the pack. These guys are disappointed at not being in the All Blacks and this is the vehicle for them to get back into that team."

Lions Squad:

Forwards: Rodney So'oialo (captain), Adrian Barone, Dane Coles, Jacob Ellison, Scott Fuglistaller, Faifili Levave, Serge Lilo, Motu Matu'u, Api Naikatini, Daniel Ramsey, Mark Reddish, Ged Robinson, John Schwalger, David Te Moana*, Jeremy Thrush, Neemia Tialata

Backs: Hayden Cripps*, Fa'atonu Fili, Hosea Gear, Michael Hobbs, Alapati Leiua, Charlie Ngatai, Buxton Popoalii, Julian Savea*, Lima Sopoaga*, Apoua Stewart, Ruki Tipuna, Shaun Treeby.

All Blacks: Cory Jane, Ma'a Nonu, Conrad Smith, Victor Vito, Piri Weepu, Alby Mathewson.

* denotes uncapped for Wellington.

The Dominion Post