Wellington Lions coach Chris Boyd had no hesitation in thrusting teenagers Ardie Savea and Matt Proctor into his starting XV for tomorrow night's National Provincial Championship opener.
At just 18 years old, Savea will wear the No 8 jersey, while Proctor, 19, will take his place on the wing in an otherwise vastly experienced Lions side against Manawatu in Palmerston North.
Boyd said he had no doubt Savea, the younger brother of All Black wing Julian and already established in the New Zealand sevens team, could handle the physicality of provincial forward play.
"Ardie for a young man has that little bit of X-factor. He can do a lot of special little things," Boyd said.
"The sevens was a path for him to grow, but most importantly he's grown his game understanding and he's also grown his physical conditioning. He's put on seven or eight kilos of mass since the start of the sevens campaign and continues to grow, so he's got plenty of upside. He's a young man who is already a true professional in terms of the detail off the field."
Savea, 97kg, gets his chance after Hurricanes No 8 Brad Shields was ruled out for the season with a knee injury, and forms a loose trio with Highlanders openside Scott Fuglistaller and Hurricanes blindside Mark Reddish.
Proctor had gained valuable experience with the New Zealand under-20 side and had been a form player for Oriental-Rongotai for the past two seasons, Boyd said.
The pair join an impressive Wellington side that includes 11 current Super rugby players as well as former All Black lock Ross Filipo, who will gain his 50th cap for the Lions.
First five-eighth Tim Bateman missed training with the flu yesterday, but will start inside Highlanders second five-eighth Shaun Treeby and Chiefs-bound centre Charlie Ngatai.
Up front Jeffery Toomaga-Allen will make a quirky provincial debut at the end of his first full season of Super rugby in an all-Hurricanes front row.
It's a lineup that's gained the Premiership's sixth-ranked side favouritism at the TAB, for what is a crossover match against the Championship's second-ranked Turbos. The Manawatu side includes Highlanders blindside Nick Crosswell and prop Ma'afu Fia, as well as Chiefs wing Asaeli Tikoirotuma and lock Mike Fitzgerald.
And Boyd was quick to point out rankings have counted for little in the past two seasons.
"Yep, I've been reminded they've [Manawatu] won the last two clashes and we're not too thrilled about that, to be honest."
Meanwhile, injured All Black Conrad Smith was a notable participant in the Lions' training run. Though he is being kept out of contact as he recovers from an eye injury, Smith could be eyeing an NPC match before his anticipated All Black return against Argentina in Wellington on September 8.
Wellington: Jason Woodward, Alapati Leiua, Charlie Ngatai, Shaun Treeby, Matt Proctor, Tim Bateman, Frae Wilson, Ardie Savea, Scot Fuglistaller, Mark Reddish, Ross Filipo, Jeremy Thrush (c), Jeff Toomaga-Allen, Dane Coles, Reggie Goodes. Reserves: Motu Matu'u, Arden David-Perrot, Whetu Henry, Lua Lokotui, Genesis Mamea, Kayne Hammington, Ambrose Curtis
Manawatu: Nehe Milner-Skudder, Craig Clare, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Frankie Bryant, Junior Tomasi Cama, Nathan George, Karl Bryson, Hamish Gosling, Callum Gibbins, Nick Crosswell (c), Michael Fitzgerald, Fraser Stone, Ma'afu Fia, Rob Foreman, Eric Fry. Reserves: Bryn Templeman, David Te Moana, Reece Robinson, James Oliver, three backs reserves TBC
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