Wellington Lions go rural to end national provincial championship preparations

Wellington Lions coach Earl Va'a took his squad into Wairarapa farmland to cap off their preseason.
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Wellington Lions coach Earl Va'a took his squad into Wairarapa farmland to cap off their preseason.

For a tiny southern Wairarapa farming town, Pirinoa has seen its fair share of rugby legends.

A 20 minute drive south of Martinborough, it was where the 1987 All Blacks were billeted ahead of their final World Cup pool match against Argentina in Wellington.

Those 26 All Blacks still talk about that day and night away from the glare of the public and media, where they had a training run at the local ground, did some hunting and horse riding, and had a few beers with the locals.

While this year's Wellington Lions don't have the stars of that team, they retraced some of those steps this week when spending three days there for their final preseason camp.

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For coach Earl Va'a, it was the first chance he had to get his full squad together, complete with the Super Rugby winners from the Hurricanes.

The focus was as much on bringing the team together as it was on rugby.

"That was always the unknown, when we would be able to get our full squad back together. It wasn't until this week that we were able to do that, so we've basically squeezed a whole week of training into three days.

"We were able to do some really cool activities that the boys hadn't done before and come together as a group and work on a lot of things outside of rugby."

The players were put through their paces on both the training and farm paddock, taking on some sheep which would give Hawke's Bay's fleet-footed first-five Ihaia West - one of their opponents in Saturday's national provincial championship season opener in Napier - a run for his money when it comes to agility.

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"The boys did some time trials with sheep without the help of farm dogs, so they were the farm dogs and had to get the sheep through obstacles in a certain amount of time," Va'a said.

"That was cool and we had a couple of boys have a crack at shearing the sheep and we did some claybird shooting, fun golf activities on the farm and in amongst that the boys worked their butts off on the training field and did a lot of homework and gathering information for this week."

It's a novel take on a preseason which hasn't been easy for the Lions' coaching staff.

Everyone was applauding the Hurricanes as they surged to their first Super Rugby title, but you'd imagine Va'a must have been wondering what scraps he'd be left with when the long campaign ended.

Three members of the Hurricanes squad will start Saturday's game against the Magpies - fullback Jason Woodward, centre Matt Proctor and wing Wes Goosen - while forwards Brad Shields and Vaea Fifita are among the walking wounded as they recover from the long campaign.

Va'a said the Hurricanes' long run into the playoffs meant they had to adapt what they were doing.

"It's definitely given us different challenges in terms of how we've had to prepare.

"Now that we've come back out of camp and had today [Thursday] off, I think, given the small window we've had together, I'm pretty happy with our prep going into the first game, we'll wait and see what happens on Saturday."

AT A GLANCE

National provincial championship, week one

Where and when: McLean Park, Napier and Sky Sport 1, 5.35pm Saturday

TAB: Hawke's Bay $1.90, Wellington $1.90

Wellington: Jason Woodward, Joe Hill, Matt Proctor, Shaun Treeby, Wes Goosen, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Tomasi Palu, Hoani Matenga, Greg Foe (c), 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. 

Hawke's Bay: Lewis Marshall, Ryan Tongia, Jonah Lowe, Billy Rohipa, Mason Emerson, Ihaia West, Ellery Wilson, Fa'alemiga Selesele, Tony Lamborn, Hugh Renton, Mark Abbott, Geoff Cridge, Tolu Fahamokioa, Ash Dixon (c), Rikki Riccitelli. Reserves: Jorian Tangaere, Jason Long, Ben May, Josh Eden-Whaitiri, Marino Mikaele-Tu'u, Brad Weber, Tiaan Falcon, Matt Garland.

 - Stuff

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