Preview: Bay of Plenty v Wellington

Getty Images     03 Oct 2015     Getty Images

Expect a gritty Steamers side, who are close to sealing a semi-final berth of their own, to provide plenty of competition at Mt Maunganui’s Baypark Stadium.

Bay of Plenty’s 32-point win ensured they bounced back from consecutive losses to a revitalised Taranaki (9-32) and Hawke’s Bay (17-23), the latter being a Ranfurly Shield challenge. Bay of Plenty at times have made tough times of scoring tries in 2015 with just 18 five-pointers across eight matches, while the side’s scrum is the lowest performing unit in the competition with a 78 percent success rate. Discipline has also been a burden for the hosts, having conceded the second highest amount of yellow cards this season (five). To their credit, the Steamers have played some solid rugby, and in doing so registered a 37-26 win over Premiership outfit Counties Manukau in Pukekohe.

A month ago, Wellington were preparing for what would eventually be a 53-3 hiding over Southland in Invercargill. What a difference four weeks can make. In that time, they’ve slipped up to Tasman (17-36) and Otago (36-37), scraped past Waikato (21-14) and been held to a 22-22 draw with Championship table toppers Hawke’s Bay. This has been in large parts to the competition-leading 88 handling errors the side has made throughout the 2015 season. Earl Va’a will be urging his side to be clinical despite the side playing its third game in eight days. Fatigue could be playing a significant part, but with two matches to play and only a five-point lead on third-placed Otago, the Lions know a win will seal a home semi-final with a round remaining.

Played: 28
Wins: Wellington 21, Bay of Plenty 5, Draws 2
Last Time: Wellington 33 Bay of Plenty 16, Wellington 2013

BAY OF PLENTY: 1.Solomona Sakalia, 2.Nathan Harris, 3.Siegfried Fisi’ihoi, 4.Keepa Mewett, 5.Troy Callander, 6.Johan Bardoul, 7.Zak Hohneck (captain), 8.Joe Tupe, 9.Te Aihe Toma, 10.Dan Hollinshead, 11.Chase Tiatia, 12.Lalakai Foketi, 13.Tino Nemani, 14.Elijah Nicholas, 15.Te Rangi Fraser.

Reserves: 16.Joseph Royal, 17.Jeff Thwaites, 18.Mike Kainga, 19.Sabastian Siataga, 20.Carl Axtens, 21.Jono Kitto, 22.Whaimotu Craft-Chemis, 23.Craig Clare.

WELLINGTON: 1.Vince Sakaria, 2.Leni Apisai, 3.Jeffery To’omaga-Allen, 4.Jeremy Thrush, 5.James Blackwell, 6.Hoani Matega, 7.Greg Foe, 8.Ardie Savea (captain), 9.Frae Wilson, 10.Jackson Garden-Bachop, 11.Sam McNicol, 12.Wes Goosen, 13.Matt Proctor, 14.Joe Hill, 15.Cory Jane.

Reserves: 16.James O’Reilly, 17.Ben May, 18.Whetu Henry, 19.Isaac O’Connor, 20.Henry Stowers, 21.Adam Deck, 22.Jonny Bentley, 23.Tomasi Alosio.

Squad Update: Bay of Plenty will be relaxed and raring to go thanks to an eight-day turnaround from their 37-5 win over Northland in Whangarei. The side has made a number of changes, with the return of Dan Hollinshead to first five-eighths, while Tino Nemani retains his spot at centre.

Wellington’s forward pack has taken a further hit with the absence of three frontline players. Loose forwards Vaea Fifita (calf), Adam Hill (shoulder) and Reggie Goodes (head knock) are all unavailable as the visitors face their third match in eight days. Sam McNicol returns from an eye socket injury to make his debut at on the left wing at the expense of Jason Woodward, who drops out of the 23. Wellington have already lost captain Brad Shields (broken jaw) to injury in 2015.

Key Players: Chase Tiatia should back himself against a side he knows well. The talented youngster left Wellington earlier this year to sign a two-year deal with the Steamers and has capitalised with a team-high four tries. Loose forward Johan Bardoul is a strong ball carrier at flanker and will be fizzing to take on Greg Foe in the absence of Brad Shields.

Jeffery To'omaga-Allen has illustrated his potential around the park throughout the season for Wellington, and his battle with Chiefs and Steamers prop Solomona Sakalia could be an interesting battle come scrum time, given their mutual allegiance to Wellington club Marist St Pats. It will be interesting to see how captain Ardie Savea fares at the back of the scrum, and whether he will switch positions later in the match.