Weepu keen to get game time

Getty Images     07 Aug 2008     Getty Images

Weepu will play for the Wellington Lions in their Air New Zealand Cup match against North Harbour on Thursday before heading to South Africa with the All Blacks on Friday.

The 24-year-old halfback returned to the international fold as injury cover for Jimmy Cowan and Andy Ellis early last week after a 12-month hiatus and with Ellis unable to recover from a rib injury in time to play Australia at Eden Park in the Bledisloe Cup/Tri-Nations showdown, Weepu found himself on the bench.

While he only got on the pitch for the final eight minutes of the 39-10 trouncing of the Wallabies, Weepu is keen to force his way back into the All Blacks coaches' long-term plans.

"It was good to get back out there," Weepu said.

"I didn't get much of an opportunity to show what I'm capable of doing, or getting out there to prove a point, so I will just be going over there and being positive and train hard while I'm there and then see what the outcome is."

Firstly, Weepu must negotiate an encounter against North Harbour which is smarting after last weekend's 13-20 loss to Taranaki.

There will be a couple of familiar faces lining up for Wellington's opposition with former Lions first five-eighths Jimmy Gopperth and lock Bernie Upton now on loan at North Harbour.

Weepu has played a lot of rugby alongside Gopperth for the Lions and the Hurricanes and admitted it would be tough coming up against his friend.

"It's going to be quite difficult. Me and Jimmy used to go diving a lot together and hang out quite a bit so it's going to be funny seeing my old team-mate playing for another province and running out against him," he said.

"I know Jimmy though, he will get up for the game and try and do his best and prove a point.

"He knows what we're capable of doing and how we play so he'll try and change the way he plays and come up with something different."

Weepu's inclusion in the starting XV is one of three changes coach Jamie Joseph has made to the run-on team that defeated the Hawke's Bay Magpies 30-6 in the opening round.

Tu Umaga-Marshall, former All Blacks captain Tana Umaga's nephew, replaces Brendan Watt, who has been ill this week, on the right wing, while Api Naikatini comes in at lock for Ross Filipo who has a calf strain.

On the bench Tim Fairbrother and Tane Tu'ipulotu replace Anthony Perenise and Tomasi Palu and Chris Middleton and Buxton Popoali'i will make their provincial debuts if they take to the field.