Injured Wellington captain Brad Shields expected to be out weeks not months
Brad Shields won't be back in a hurry, but Wes Goosen and Trent Renata might not be far away.
Wellington aren't in a position to be doing without too many of their better players right now. Especially with the country's most fearsome province due in town in Sunday.
A knee injury means Shields won't lead the Lions onto Westpac Stadium to meet Canterbury. The skipper went down in a big heap during last Sunday's 37-35 loss to Tasman in Blenheim, but is expected back at some stage during the provincial rugby season.
Goosen suffered a rib injury in the same match and was sporting a sling during Wellington training on Wednesday. However, he could be an outside chance to play Canterbury, along with fullback Renata, who's been out with a hamstring problem since the 42-26 win over Taranaki on August 26.
Shields' left leg is in brace and he's not getting about too quickly, but it's understood that whatever damage he's suffered isn't structural.
"Both of them are tracking really, really well," Wellington assistant coach Rodney So'oialo said of Shields and Goosen.
The Tasman defeat was Wellington's first of the season and came at the end of a run of three games in 10 days. Not that the coaching staff were willing to cite fatigue as a factor in the outcome.
"[We learned] a lot actually. Defensively we leaked very soft tries so we're definitely fixing that defence side of it and [working on] holding onto our ball," said So'oialo.
The Lions lead the championship - or second division - standings by six points from Northland, while Canterbury sit atop the premiership ladder. They have a Ranfurly Shield defence against last-placed Counties Manukau on Wednesday, but boast so much depth that it shouldn't impair their performance by the time they get to Westpac Stadium on Sunday.
Wellington are a young team, bristling with bright prospects such as prop Alex Fidow and hooker Asafo Aumua. The pair carry the ball as well as any frontrowers in the country, but their challenge is to become just as adept at set-piece time.
So'oialo and head coach Chris Gibbes are working hard on them, but there's no substitute for match situations. Fidow got a good education from Tasman loosehead prop Tim Perry - who's since joined the All Blacks' squad in Auckland - and Canterbury will be just as formidable in the scrums and lineouts.
"It presents a huge challenge for us. For the boys that haven't played them before, it's a chance to experience a very tough game so we're really looking forward to it," So'oialo said.