Strong Canterbury effort hoped for

TABAI MATSON: The Canterbury head coach has made a good transition from his previous role as assistant.
TABAI MATSON: The Canterbury head coach has made a good transition from his previous role as assistant.

A good all-round performance is all Cantabrians coach Tabai Matson is asking for from his side's final pre-season match against Wellington at Linfield Park today.

With the opening round of the ITM Cup just seven days away, the four-time defending champion Canterbury side will be looking for a strong effort after two lacklustre performances in the last fortnight.

Soundly beaten by Tasman in Kaikoura two weeks ago, they were played off the park by Southland in Oamaru last week, sending a shiver down the spines of the red and black faithful.

Helping ease the nerves is the return this week of 12 members of the Crusaders squad and also influential Highlanders No 8 Nasi Manu after fulfilling their Super Rugby duties.

Their return is welcomed by Matson as he ponders his final squad for the national competition, which will be announced early next week.

"All the big dogs joined us on Monday, which was awesome," Matson said.

"There is a lot of experience in that group of men and everyone has been drawing and feeding off that this week."

With only four days together, today's side are expected to be a little rusty, but with a backline which boasts Tom Taylor, Robbie Fruean, Patrick Osbourne and Sean Maitland some strong rugby is also on order.

"There is going to be a little shakiness out there, they haven't had all that long together and while a win is important we aren't viewing it as vital.

"More important to us is a good performance. There are areas which we have really focused on and will be working hard on this week so it is more about doing the key things really well."

One player who is in for a big campaign is Lincoln University captain Dominic Bird.

The massive lock gets a chance in the absence of both Luke Romano and Ash Parker from last season.

"Losing two players of the calibre of Luke and Ash leaves us with some big shoes to fill," Matson said.

"Dom is such an influential player both on and off the field and has been a part of this group for a couple of years now. He looks set for a pretty big season with us."

Captain George Whitelock joined the side this week, but is sitting today's match out with a slight niggle so halfback Willi Heinz steps into the captaincy role.

Wellington have travelled south with a big squad also boasting a number of Super Rugby players who are making their return to rugby after a brief rest period.

They will also have the services of All Blacks wing Julian Savea, who has been released from the national side for the match and will start the game on the reserves bench.