Pivac opts not play Piri Weepu in NPC final

NOT WANTED: All Blacks' halfback Piri Weepu has been deemed surplus to requirements by Auckland coach Wayne Pivac for this weekend's NPC Premiership final.
NOT WANTED: All Blacks' halfback Piri Weepu has been deemed surplus to requirements by Auckland coach Wayne Pivac for this weekend's NPC Premiership final.

Auckland coach Wayne Pivac says his decision not to select fit and available All Black Piri Weepu in his squad for Saturday's national provincial final against Canterbury was about putting the team first.

Pivac confirmed today that Auckland would not be availing themselves of Weepu's services, despite the veteran All Black being released to play in the final weekend of the provincial competition by national coach Steve Hansen.

Auckland will include prop Charlie Faumuina in their squad to face Canterbury at Christchurch's new AMI Stadium on Saturday night, but Pivac said that decision was about necessity.

"We hadn't planned to use any All Blacks, to be honest," said Pivac. "Charlie has been used because we've had a broken thumb to Ofa Tu'ungafasii and Siosiua Halanukonuka has been doing the role there more as injury cover.

"For Canterbury we know we're going to have to use our bench extensively, and that's why we're using Charlie. It's in the best interests of the team.

"In terms of halfback, we've been doing a lot of work the last six to eight weeks all based around what we do at eight, nine, 10 and 12 and we just think it's a big ask to come in and try and control the game for us.

"Alby [Mathewson] has been doing a pretty good job and he's been playing a lot of 80-minute games. We're putting the team first and that's the decision I've made."

Ben Franks and Wyatt Crockett have been released for Canterbury, and Pivac felt the decision on playing them or not should come down to what was best for the team.

There's no doubt Mathewson plays better when he doesn't have Weepu breathing down his neck - and this may have been a significant factor in Pivac's thinking.

With Saturday night's final doubling as skipper Daniel Braid's 100th game for the province, Pivac said it was likely All Black tour hopeful Ali Williams would be back to join his long-time team-mate for the big occasion.

Williams missed Saturday's semifinal victory over Wellington with a back injury, but the 75-test lock was on course for a game he probably needs to seal a spot on the All Blacks' end-of-year tour.

"He certainly ran freely yesterday, came through what the medical team put him through, and if he comes through today he'll be available for selection," said Pivac.

The final would be a special moment for Braid whose future in the union remains uncertain, with the 31-year-old as yet unsigned for next season.

"He's been a great player for Auckland," added Pivac.

"You've just got to look at Daniel - he's not the biggest bloke on the field but he certainly has a big ticker and goes for 80 minutes. He's been great value to Auckland rugby and the Blues and had a good season or two for the Reds as well."

In terms of whether it would be Braid's Auckland farewell, Pivac was less equivocal.

"His future is a little uncertain at the moment, and I don't think he's got anything solid in writing in terms of where he's going to be playing next year. But I don't think you'd ever say never, and he will be the one that will pull the curtain on that."

Meanwhile, Pivac confirmed his team would honour legendary Auckland and All Black prop Sir Wilson Whineray who died on Monday aged 77.

"It's a very sad time," said Pivac. "Not only was he a great for New Zealand rugby but a great New Zealander, and he'll be sadly missed. We'll certainly be paying tribute to him on Saturday."

Pivac had made a special point of emphasising the history of Auckland rugby for this young squad and at the start of the season the team had been presented a video looking back at Fred Allen's involvement.

"We went right back and looked at the history of the union and New Zealand rugby, and brought back hopefully some old-fashioned values to the game. In these modern times it's very easy for young players to get wrapped up in the whole money and contract side of the game.

"Certainly we've taken it back to why we play the game and some of the good old traditions."

Auckland may need those old-school values on Saturday against a Canterbury side in imposing form and chasing a fifth straight national title.

Fairfax Media