Wellington coach Chris Boyd has a new halves pairing, but has had little time to coach them ahead of tonight's national provincial championship match against Bay of Plenty.
Lima Sopoaga will wear the No 10 jersey at Mt Maunganui outside Upper Hutt halfback Kayne Hammington in one of four changes to the Lions side that lost to Auckland on Saturday.
It is Sopoaga's first start since injuring his shoulder playing for the Highlanders against the Waratahs on March 10, while Hammington got the perfect 22nd birthday present yesterday when he was named to start for the first time this season.
Bay of Plenty represent the second leg of a road trip that will see Wellington play three games in eight days.
That's left Boyd frustrated at how little time he has to do remedial work with young players like Hammington with Sunday a recovery day, yesterday the captain's run, and today game-day.
The other challenge is, of course, keeping players mentally and physically fresh, but Boyd said that was an inexact science.
"We've just come back from captain's run and I think it was pretty good actually, but it's hard to predict," he said. "You go back to the Super 15 situation where the Sharks found it was a hurdle too far for them coming back to the Chiefs for the final.
"It hasn't been quite as arduous as that, but the short turn-arounds do present an issue and it's not always easy to detect when people are physically and mentally tired until they get put under stress."
Hence, Boyd said none of his selection changes so far had been related to the effects of the condensed schedule. "None of it is rotation or premeditated. It's really picking the team for us we think is best for the particular match."
The 43-30 loss to Auckland clearly did have an effect on selection. Sopoaga's 20 minutes convinced his coach he was ready for a start, while Frae Wilson "missed some opportunities", giving Hammington a chance after six weeks on the bench.
Regular first five-eighth Tim Bateman moves to centre, with Charlie Ngatai pushed back to fullback for Jason Woodward.
In the pack Solomona Sakalia takes the No 1 jersey from the concussed Eric Sione, with Whetu Henry joining the reserves, and Ross Filipo replaces Mark Reddish at lock.
It's unclear how many will show up to Bay Park Stadium, but Boyd doesn't believe recent publicity about poor crowds will affect his players.
"You wouldn't want to get to the point where you are playing in front of an empty stadium, but for them the contest is more important than the crowd," he said.
"They accept the fact that you take the steps from the dizzy heights of the All Blacks to Super Rugby, to ITM Cup, to club. In that continuum as the level comes down the crowd figures come down, that's just how it is."
Captain Jeremy Thrush said there was some awareness of the issue, but that it was out of the players' control.
And he said apart from some bumps and bruises the players' bodies were holding up.
What and where: NPC Round 10, Baypark Stadium, Mt Maunganui
When: 7.35pm tonight, live on Sky Sport 1
TAB odds: Wellington $1.65, BOP $2.15
Referee: Keith Brown
Bay of Plenty: Lance MacDonald, Lelia Masaga, Kenny Lynn, Phil Burleigh, Mafi Kefu, Chris Noakes, Lewis Hancock, Luke Braid, Tanerau Latimer (c), Dan Goodwin, Leon Power, Culum Retallick, Josh Hohneck, John Pareanga, Tristan Moran. Reserves: Nathan Harris, Greg Pleasants-Tate, Carl Axtens, Jesse Acton, Nick McCashin, Simon Rolleston, Jack Wilson/Maru Henry.
Wellington: Charlie Ngatai, Alapati Leiua, Tim Bateman, Shaun Treeby, Matt Proctor, Lima Sopoaga, Kayne Hammington, Ardie Savea, Scott Fuglistaller, Lua Lokotui, Ross Filipo, Jeremy Thrush (c), Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Dane Coles, Solomona Sakalia. Reserves: Motu Matu'u, Whetu Henry, Mark Reddish, Genesis Mamea, Frae Wilson, Ope Peleseuma, Jason Woodward.
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