Greg Foe to captain Wellington against Hawke's Bay as Brad Shields recovers from injury
The Wellington Lions will be without captain Brad Shields for their national provincial championship season opener against Hawke's Bay.
Lions coach Earl Va'a said Hurricanes players Shields, lock/loose forward Vaea Fifita and prop Reggie Goodes would be unavailable for Saturday's game.
"Brad is carrying an injury from the Super Rugby final, so he's not available for selection this week.
"Reg Goodes is still under concussion protocol, so he's just following that, and Vaea has had a huge workload with the Hurricanes so he's getting another week off.
"The plan is to have [Shields and Fifita] back next week."
Shields missed the backend of last season through injury, but Ardie Savea was on hand to take over the captaincy.
He's off riding the All Blacks' pine in Sydney on Saturday, so Greg Foe will stand in as skipper, having captained the side to their three preseason wins.
It shapes as an inexperienced pack with four debutants - although two of those, USA Eagles prop Chris Baumann and former Waratahs lock Sam Lousi, are no strangers to rugby at this level.
Lock Isaia Walker-Leawere, who left Gisborne Boys' High School last year, and blindside flanker Galu Taufale are the others making their first Wellington starts.
Jackson Gardon-Bachop starts at first-five, but has plenty of experience outside him with Shaun Treeby and Matt Proctor filling the midfield and Jason Woodward at fullback.
Any talk of a 2015 Championship final rematch - where a try in the final four minutes saw Hawke's Bay win 26-25 - adding spice to the encounter was best left to the fans, Va'a said.
"People will talk up the rematch from last year's final. We'll just look to put everything we've planned over the preseason, and this last week with the whole squad together, to good use on Saturday."
Wellington have left Tasman, Manawatu and Canterbury in their dust in the preseason, as each opposition coach felt Wellington had a good handle on the new breakdown laws.
The laws will speed up the game and make it harder for the defending team to turn the ball over.
Va'a said he was pleasantly surprised with how quickly his side had picked them up.
"I've been very impressed with how fast the boys are picking up the new laws and adapting to them.
"I'm not too sure about being advanced [in them], but the boys have definitely picked it up a lot quicker than I thought might happen. We've just got to put it into practise on Saturday."
Wellington: Jason Woodward, Joe Hill, Matt Proctor, Shaun Treeby, Wes Goosen, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Tomasi Palu, Hoani Matenga, Greg Foe, Galu Taufale, Sam Lousi Isaia Walker-Leawere, Chris Baumann, Leni Apisai, Vince Sakaria. Reserves: Asafo Aumua, Alex Fidow, Joe Apikotoa, Kane Leaupepe, Issac O'Connor, Sheridan Rangihuna, Pakai Turia, Peter Umaga-Jensen.